KEEPING AN EYE ON POTENTIAL FALLOUT

“That’s all anybody can do right now. Live. Hold out. Survive. I don’t know whether good times are coming back again. But I know that won’t matter if we don’t survive these times.”
Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

“I have the nerve to walk my own way, however hard, in my search for reality, rather than climb upon the rattling wagon of wishful illusions.”
Zora Neale Hurston

 

Politics has little space for sentiment. On Tuesday morning, MNPS School Board Chair Anna Shepherd passed away and by the time the evening news aired there was a list of half a dozen names, and growing, ready to vie for her seat on the board.

At present, it is still a little unclear exactly how the replacement process will proceed. Since it is past the deadline to add the seat to the upcoming ballot, it’ll be left up to Metro Council to appoint a replacement. The duration of that appointment remains under question, as Shepherd had two years remaining in her term.

This will be the third time since 2006 that Council has been tasked with naming a replacement for the school board. Kay Brooks was appointed to fill an interim term in 2006, Mark North in 2007, and then just 10 months ago Freda Player-Peters was appointed to fill Will Pinkston’s suddenly vacated seat.

This new vacancy raises additional concern over the future of MNPS’s school board and by extension the district itself. Both Jill Speering and Amy Frogge are not running for re-election. If the good lord is willing and the creek doesn’t rise, challenger Robert Taylor should defeat Sharon Gentry for the seat district 1 – something that would temper my trepidation. There are two quality candidates poised to replace Frogge and Speering in Abigail Tylor and Emily Masters.

Still, when the board reconvenes after the August election, it’ll do so sans almost half a century of experience and with a leadership cabinet nearly bare.

The presumptive favorites to take over the board chair role are Gini Pupo-Walker and Christiane Buggs. Were the former to assume the role, questions of conflict of interest would have to be addressed as she is the current executive director of the Tennessee branch of Education Trust, an independent education advocacy group currently led nationally by former US Commissioner of Education John King.

The agendas of the Education Trust and the Metro Nashville School Board don’t always align, so the question would be one of which master does she serve? In the past, Walker has countered with the argument that she serves children. While I don’t doubt that, the devil is in the details. How to best serve children is an ongoing discussion, and not everyone agrees on the best approaches. I would think that Nashville residents would need some reassurance that their voices would carry as much weight as John King’s in that ongoing discussion.

The gift of Shepherd in leading the board to its current level of functionality was in rising above personal squabbles and maintaining a focus on the business of governance. Buggs, to date, has shown little ability to replicate that talent.

At the last week’s board meeting, while discussing pending action on a revision to the student handbook, she felt the need to inform everyone that, “just because she(Dr.Battle) disagrees with me, I’m not going to try and get her fired, or anything. That’s not what a board should do.” A thinly veiled slap at fellow board members Speering and Frogge, who worked to remove former director Joseph when it became clear he was incapable of successfully executing his duties as director of schools.

It’s worth noting that as of recent, Buggs has been making noise to constituents about possibly rescinding the vote on a new high school for the Hillwood Cluster. A project championed by Frogge. Another move that could easily be interpreted as retaliation for Frogge’s stance towards Joseph.

In the same soliloquy about “not trying to get Battle fired”, in what I can only guess was a response to the proposed lowering of the penalty associated with students caught having sex in school, Buggs felt the need to clarify that she was working with her 3-year-old son to not be a misogynst, nor a pervert, and ensure that he’s not sending naked pictures of girls. While her remarks were delivered in the context of talking about parental roles and the need for kids to have a strong advocate, I still found them a bit bizarre and I was under the illusion that some things were a given.

In fairness to Buggs, the whole meeting was a little bizarre.

Player-Peters continues to demonstrate her lack of familiarity with how schools work. She makes a motion that the proposed changes to the handbook be done as a 6 month pilot. After Dr. Battle explains to her the needs associated with the changes and the importance of consistency of practice, Frogge gives her the opportunity to withdraw her motion.

After several minutes of waffling, she declines to do so, and voting proceeds on the motion. The motion is unanimously defeated, with Player-Peters eventually voting against her own motion. Not a good look.

But she’s far from the only one. Voting on motions is repeatedly interrupted by questions that lead to a need to restart the voting process. Rachael Elrod is absent for one vote as apparently, she had to go down the hall for a parenting moment. Frogge does an admirable job of trying to keep everyone on task, but gets little cooperation. Hopefully, this meeting will prove to be an outlier and not a harbinger of the future.

As MNPS heads into a year of high anxiety and uncertainty, teachers, students, and families, need the board to pick up their game and not give in to their worst angels. The time is well past to put aside personal agendas and childish moments, and actually focus on children and their needs.

SHUFFLED DECK CHAIRS

Those of you who regularly read Dad Gone Wild weren’t shocked by the news on Wednesday in regard to new district leadership appointments. Public reaction to the official announcement was tepid at best, with many noting the resemblance to the friends and family plans of past superintendents. Supposedly nearly 50 people applied for the executive director job, yet three-quarters of the positions were filled by people who were already doing the job. Whether that truly qualifies as a reorganization, is open to your own interpretation.

Once again Karen DeSouza-Gallman lands on her feet. This time as Executive Director, Montessori, Elementary Support, Principal Development. Since MNPS only has 2 Montessori Schools this should provide ample time for her continued development of the Inquiry Cycle roadshow. Gallman arrived with Joseph from Prince George County 5 years ago and during her time here has failed to endear herself with just about everybody but Dr. Battle. The good news in her remaining with MNPS is that the district will continue to benefit from the doctoral degree of which they paid half the tuition.

The appointment of Dr. Springer to the role of Chief of Student Support Services is an interesting move. As a principal, Springer was incredibly successful and instilled deep loyalty in her teachers. However, as an executive director, she struggled to replicate that success. Personally, I think this is a solid move, and I expect that she will rise to the challenge and prove quite successful in this new role.

The hiring of Ashford Hughes is seen by most as a win for the district. Hughes is among the most respected of Nashville politicians. Which is also the only knock I hear against Hughes. At his core, he’s a politician, and MNPS has enough politicians when what they need is more educators.

Three of the appointments – Conley, Lawrence, High – translate to schools losing principals with less than two months before school opens. I would consider that problematic on a number of levels, especially considering the pace of the district’s recent principal hirings. Schools can not afford to lose any more time in planning for next year and getting replacements in place should be a critical consideration.

Despite the shuffling beening sold as a reorganization, the reality is that the organization chart will look remarkably similar to last year only without community superintendents and a reduction in salaries for some. According to the 2020-2021 budget proposal, 5 positions have been eliminated, but at least 2 have been created.

On Thursday a round of principal hirings was released as well. Again, regular readers shouldn’t find many surprises on the list. Unfortunately, this list also creates openings at other district schools. Madison Middle is once again in search of new leadership, as is West End Middle. It’s hard to sustain progress when the leadership position remains continually unstable.

While I have mixed thoughts about these announcements, at least they are out there and schools can take the next step in planning for next year. Time will tell if they were the right moves or just another lap on the hamster wheel. I do want to wish everyone success because with their success comes success for Nashville’s students.

One last interesting side note, a quick look at MNPS’s employment portal revealed the following announcement,

At this time we do not have any openings; however, positions open unexpectedly and fill quickly.  Please establish a pre-employment file by completing the online application. To complete the online application, use the ‘Start an application for employment’ link available on this site.  Thank you for your interest in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.

Ok…when schools were last in session, the district had 180 plus openings.What happened? Is this the result of a hiring freeze? If so, I get the need for one, but shouldn’t that be for positions not currently budgeted? And how are we finding a candidate for the position of Chief of Schools if we are not accepting applications? Inquiring minds want to know.

TDOE IS STILL AT IT

This week Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn appeared before the US Senate to talk about plans for the re-opening of schools. Word is that Tennessee’s shadow department of education aka SCORE played a role in procuring the appearance. Schwinn was joined by Education Trust President and CEO John King who offered, “We know assistive technology will be vital for some students to be able to access distance learning. We know that in some cases, additional staff will be needed in order to be able to potentially provide services at home to students in a socially distant way. For her part, Schwinn did share the predicted cost to districts for student personal protections,

“What we’ve found is that the per-student cost for hygiene and disinfecting materials — including wipes, potential face masks, etc — is anywhere from $100 to $150 per student, depending on the decisions at the local level.”

That translates to a minimum cost of 8 million dollars for MNPS. That is mucho dinero.

What Schwinn failed to give clarity about, and districts desperately need, is how attendance will be counted, what the requirements for LEA’s to receive BEP funding will be, and what accountability tools will be in play. Without this information, LEA’s are left at a disadvantage in planning for the coming year. Guidance on attendance policies is especially critical.

According to an article in the Johnson City Press, the department is rolling out an assessment platform for LEA’s.

The state will provide three, free optional tools to districts later this year, allowing them to accurately gauge students’ academic progress.

The Start-of-the-Year Checkpoint will offer a set of optional assessments developed from the TNReady exam available for grades 3-8 and an end of course exam in math and English language arts. The Online Formative Assessment Platform and Item Bank will provide a central location for all testing materials, allowing educators to create their own tests using Tennessee standards-aligned questions.

It’s not immediately clear where these questions will be drawn from. If the department is planning to cherry-pick questions from the already created but unused 2020 TNReady instead of just utilizing that assessment for 2021, I would question the financial prudence. Now there is a contract cost option in the recently signed contract with Pearson, but it is unclear whether that was ever excercised. Some sources indicate that Schwinn had a reluctance to inact that clause out of fear of attracting to much scrutiny on financial practices from legislators.

There are also rumors that the state is creating its own set of assessments. This should be more than a little frightening especially in light of the department working on creating a set of curriculum to address foundational skills for k-2. I question whether either is the purview of the department. At the very least, I’d inquire about that funding source.

One thing I didn’t realize is that teachers have never assessed students’ level of learning at the beginning of the school year and adjusted in the past. Therefore the need for beginning of school assessment is of a critical nature. Luckily legislators and administrators are picking up the task. That’s sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch it.

SHORTCUTS

This week School Board Chair Amy Frogge sat down with education historian Diane Ravitch to discuss a range of education issues. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Since 2014 it’s been the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition let by Lindsey Harris and Stephanie Teatro who have done the heavy lifting in regard to making Nashville a welcoming city to immigrants. This summer the two will be stepping down and Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, who joined the group in 2015 and is currently policy director, will succeed the two as executive director of TIRRC and TIRRC Votes. Long a fan of TIRRC’s work, I just want to say, “Thank you”. You are leving Nashville better than you found it.

Online newspaper, the Tennessee Lookout has an article on its site about teachers’ concerns around the budget and school openings. A good read.

If you’re looking for great books to read this summer, ProjectLit has suggestions. And don’t forget students have access to Limitless Libraries.

Here’s an excercise for you. Read this opinion piece in the Washington Post. Now go back through the piece and everywhere it says, “police”, cross out and write in “teacher”. Now go back and read again. Remember not everything is as simple as we’d like.

 

That’s it for now.  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.

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 non-existent. Not begging, just saying.

Make sure you don’t leave before answering this week’s poll questions.

 



Categories: Education

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