“I feel that the dormant goodwill in people needs to be stirred. People need to hear that it makes sense to behave decently or to help others, to place common interests above their own, to respect the elementary rules of human coexistence.”
“A life that partakes even a little of friendship, love, irony, humor, parenthood, literature, and music, and the chance to take part in battles for the liberation of others cannot be called ‘meaningless’…”
Another weekend has come and gone. For many, weekends are considered a time of leisure and a time to recharge batteries drained by the stress of the workweek. Unfortunately, these times don’t recognize any schedules and thus the specters of health, race, and economics never stray far from our conscious. Weekends are no exception.
Cormovirus numbers are on the increase and photos from downtown bars served to heighten anxiety, leading to the health department issuing citations for violations. There is a growing fear that Nashville may actually recede backward to stage 1 of its opening plan, further delaying recovery.
Meanwhile, as the COVID numbers grow, economic concerns grow exponentially. The reality has begun to sink in that even if we survive the health threat, the economic threat will bury countless others. A debate over a city budget that calls for an increase in property taxes scheduled for the next two weeks will not serve to quell those fears.
Race and its implications continue to be at the forefront of conversations as well. On Friday a group of organizers took over the legislative plaza in Nashville in an attempt to foster change. Governor Lee let them stick around for 22 hours before quietly clearing the plaza, and closing it down for a purported pressure washing. Organizers are promising to return this morning.
In Atlanta, another young black man was killed by police when a drunk driving stop went terribly awry. In response, Atlanta’s Chief of Police resigned. Just last week she was hailed as a model of police leadership.
In our household, the weekend brought anticipation. Peter’s best friend Noel was in town for the weekend from St. Louis and as a result, he could barely contain his excitement.
Noel is a black young man whose grandparents live around the corner. About a year ago Peter and he bonded over basketball, football, YouTube, and whatever it is that 9-year old boy’s bond over when they become friends. About 3 months ago, Noel moved to St. Louis with his mother, and both boys were devastated. This weekend’s reunion promised a frenzy of activity and it didn’t disappoint.
Within a couple of hours on Saturday an invitation for Peter to spend the night was extended. Noel’s grandfather just had a new deck built on his house and it provided the perfect place for two young men to camp out. The invitation was readily accepted and activities for the night planned.
About 8:30, after walking the dog, I stopped in to say good night to my son and thank Noel’s grandfather, Pops, for extending the invitation. He waved me off and invited me out to see the new screened in deck. He was clearly proud of the new edition and he has a right to be, its gorgeous. Half of the deck is screened in, outfitted with comfortable furniture and a TV. The other part is still open and is where he plans to make an outdoor cooking area.
We stood outside for several minutes, leaning against the rail and discussing his future plans for the future layout of the space. He with a tumbler of whiskey and me with bottled water. We don’t know each other well but have talked on numerous occasions and he readily helped me recently when I needed assistance sinking fence posts in order to replace a knocked down privacy fence. Our conversations had revealed that we were two men of a certain generation, and as a result, shared some commonalities.
We’d been discussing banalities for about 10 minutes, leaning on the railing and gazing into the darkness, when he turned to me and asked, “What do you think of all of this shit going on?”
He caught me a bit by surprise, but I responded, “I think we’ve all lost our fuckin minds.”
He gave an ironic chuckle, “That we have. But what are we going to do? How are we going to find a way out of this?”
We proceeded to have an open conversation for about 30 minutes. Both of us sharing our past experiences, our interpretations of current events, and fears for the future. We weren’t in perfect alignment, but we didn’t expect that from each other and soon realized we had more similarities than differences.
In talking to him, I discovered a man that had moved from Detroit to Chicago and then Nashville. A man who was dedicated to his work, but even more so to his family and neighborhood. Someone who had gone out of his way to know everyone in our diverse neighborhood. He respected the work of police but also had some ideas about simple reforms that if enacted could prove effective. He had a little insight into the subject, being as his wife was a former police officer.
When we came to points we disagreed on, we countered those with mutual respect instead of trying to cancel the other out. Both listening and trying to understand where the other was coming from.
I don’t know what he took away from the conversation, you’ll have to ask him, but I can’t help but think, at a minimum, we grew the relationship between the two of us.
At some point in the conversation, one of us asked, “You know where the solution to this lies don’t you?”
Simultaneously we turned and pointed to the two boys huddled over an Ipad together on the lounge chair in the screened-in area – paying scant attention to the conversation of two old men. Two young men who had forged a friendship by focusing on their similarities, and not allowing themselves to be divided by their differences. Two young men that simply accept each other and realize that together life is much richer than when they are apart.
After a while, the conversation slowed, and so I said my good-nights and headed back across the yard to my house. I did so with a sense of optimism and hope. We’d just engaged in a conversation that earlier today and seemed like more and more an impossibility. A conversation between two adults that respected each other’s differences while seeking out the similarities. A conversation that served to reinforce my belief that the only true solutions derive from creating more and richer relationships, not just hunkering into silos populated by the like-minded.
Upon reflection, I realize that on Saturday night I witnessed an act of immense courage. When Pops asked me, “What do you make of all this shit”, he opened a door having no idea what would walk through it. It’s one thing to show up at a march with thousands of others that share your opinion – there is a degree of safety in numbers. It’s an entirely another thing, alone in your house on a Saturday evening, to ask another man, who doesn’t look like you and you hardly know, his opinion on the nation’s strife and be open to hearing it.
It takes courage to risk discomfort by allowing another to express their opinions. It takes courage to allow your opinions to potentially be challenged by another view. It takes courage and conviction to speak up, knowing that silence provides sanctity. It takes, even more, to do so alone and face to face, unprotected by a mass gathering or the distance a keyboard provides.
That invitation could have brought forth all kinds of hateful vitriol. It could have turned a pleasant evening into a disaster. In asking a simple question he risked allowing hateful rhetoric into his sanctuary. Yet he took that courageous step out of a deep sense of commitment to the community and the betterment of society. Instead of retreating into his silo, he decided to widen his net. And for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
If we are going to find solutions we can’t just talk to people that echo our thoughts. Some of you may be shocked to know that I semi-regularly talk to former school board member Mary Pierce. We don’t agree on much, but I find her insight illuminating and I enjoy our time discussing issues and families. At the very least she gives me a different perspective in which to consider policy and events. She’s also a parent with a little more experience than I and I appreciate her sharing that experience.
Over the years, I’ve also discovered that we agree on a lot more than I originally thought. That doesn’t translate to either of us abandoning our core beliefs, just a realization that people are never as simple as we try to make them.
The same holds true for other members of the Ed Reform team, or as they are commonly known – them. Wendy Tucker, Danial O’Donnell, Vesia Hawkins, Jason Egly, are just a few of “THEM” who I enjoy talking to and I’m grateful for their willingness to engage. On social media, dyslexia and parent advocate Anna Thorsen and I often engage in vitriolic conversations, but I would no more cancel her from my life than I would cut off my arm. The world needs hers and other voices that don’t sound identical.
I’ll never forget my conversations with former MNPS chief of staff Jana Carlisle. Carlisle had arrived from Seatle where she had been instrumental in the passing of the state’s first laws allowing charter schools. That instantly qualified her as one of “THEM”. During her time here, I repeatedly heard about her willingness to engage, and at least listen to people, a position that continually placed her at odds with Dr. Joseph. In light of those tales, I felt I owed it to her to at least try and engage. So I sent her an email inviting her to lunch.
It didn’t take long to get a response, “After what you’ve written about me? But I do like hamburgers, so I can go next Tuesday.”
I don’t talk to Carlisle much anymore since she’s left the city, but I will say that the times we have talked have been invaluable and I’m eternally grateful that she likes hamburgers. Things are never as simple as we try to make them, there are few instances of pure good and pure bad in real life, and it’s impossible to assign motivation to people we have no relationship with.
You can’t publicly shame people into acquiescence. Education and relationships remain the most powerful tools in enacting true change. Maybe we should remember, we all like to eat and that breaking bread together has nearly always served to heal.
With a little over 6 weeks remaining until schools in Tennessee are scheduled to reopen, it is becoming increasingly clear that nobody has a true plan or concept of what that means. It’s not just a Nashville problem either, but as education writer, and professional educator, Peter Green illustrates in a recent column, a national affliction. One of which, per usual, is ultimately going to be left to classroom teachers to address. As he points out,
We’re having a national conversation about controlling the spread of coronavirus in classrooms where teachers still have to buy their own tissues and hand sanitizer.
Politicians, think tank members, and administrators are tripping over each other in an effort to portray themselves as being in control of the uncontrollable. In Nashville, disturbingly, control is being ceded to the mayor to supply a plan instead of turning to the people who actually have an idea of how things may function – classroom teachers.
Putting the mayor in charge of opening schools may on some level seem logical, but don’t forget that the metro charter distinctly draws lines of authority between the mayor and the school board. It was designed that way to ensure that the governing of schools was done free of political interference and that the mayor couldn’t use schools to peddle or procure political influence. The current circumstance creates that risk and opens the doors to establishing precedence that could be detrimental in the future.
Nashville’s first Mayor, Beverly Briley, believed this separation was critical. He said it when campaigning for re-election in 1967,
“I believe in progress and a good school system is essential to progress. I also believe, as I have demonstrated over my last three years as mayor, that the schools should be run by an independent school board and not be subject to the whims of the mayor or any other politicians.”
Yet, here we are. Not a single board member listed on the team to reopen schools. At the very least the board chair should be on the steering committee.
I’m not casting shade at the mayor, and have no reason to infer anything but a desire to protect the health of the city’s citizens as his prime motivation. But, what if the chamber of commerce comes to him and says, “Hey if schools aren’t open we have no shot at economic recovery. The longer we are closed, the longer business will suffer.” Can he ignore that pressure?
By the very nature of his position, his strategy to opening schools must be balanced between what is best for schools and what is best for the city. In theory, the school board does not suffer from that dichotomy, their only allegiance is to the students of Nashville and their families. They should be working with Dr. Battle, her staff, principals, and teachers in designing a plan for the reopening of schools that is focused on what is best for students. Period.
It should then be left to the mayor to figure out how to make that plan fit in with the plan for the city. There may have to be accommodations made in the city plan, but the school plan should start without making accommodations to the city. Nor should it be unduly influenced by the agenda of politicians and the business community.
This week we will see city budget talks for next year begin in ernest. Focus will be on three competing visions – Mayor Cooper, Council Member, and Budget Chair Bob Mendes, and Council Member Steve Glover. The Mayor and Mendes’s budget calls for a large tax increase with the budget chair’s increase being higher and awarding more money to schools. Glover calls for a lower tax increase, an increase in the wheel tax rate, and cuts to services. Fellow Council Member Dave Rosenberg has created two charts that help illustrate the differences between the 3 budgets both in intake and outflow.
The Mayor’s budget calls for a maintenance of service to MNPS. Mendes’s budget has money allocated to several worthy recipients, including MNPS. Both, as does MNPS’s proposed budget, seem to ignore that we are in the midst of a pandemic. Where are the line items devoted to the reopening of schools?
In testifying before the US Senate, TN Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn put the cost of PPE’s for reopening schools at between $100 and $150 per student, that’s a minimum of 9 million dollars for MNPS. Add in teachers, administrators, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, janitors, and other support staff and you are easily looking at another 2 million dollars. What about potential increased transportation costs? Where is the money for classroom modifications going to come from? Increased sanitation supplies? I have yet to see a budget that shows money allocated for any of the aforementioned.
What about money to feed kids, a need which is sure to grow as more and more families face economic challenges in light of business closures? Mendes promises 2 million dollars to assist with summer youth employment that won’t even arrive until the summer is half over and many parents will still be in need of employment help. 1 million will go to assist with community college support at a time when we don’t even know what k-12 instruction is going to look like. All are worthy recipients in normal times, but we don’t live in normal times.
Sure the mayor graciously awarded $26 million to purchase laptops and hot spots for the city’s students, but how are schools to open without an equal dedication of funds allocated to coverring costs associated with the new reality? There seems to be an assumption that those funds will come from the state or the feds, but what if thet don’t? What if teaching positions have to be sacrificed for PPEs? What if course offerings like art, music, and social studies have to be sacrificed to meet the needs of increased sanitation costs? What if para-pro positions need to be sacrificed in order to make sure IDEA accommodations are fulfilled based on a changing school model? Will the Mendes investments seem prudent in that light? Will the Mayors maintenance of effort be deemed appropriate?
A property tax increase of, at minimum, one dollar is inarguably required right now, but proposing more at a time when nobody can accurately predict economic recovery should be carefully considered before pursuing. When looked at as an isolated figure, the additional burden may seem insignificant, but when coupled with all of the other factors, it runs the risk of being the proverbial feather that tilts the scales. Especially in light of the current capacity restrictions on businesses. The margin of profit in restaurants is typically around 8% and business plans are not written to achieve that rate based on half-filled dining rooms. Will increased taxes drive small businesses to closure? In proposing tax increases we need to be mindful of the potential unintended consequences.
If we are going to risk those unintended consequences shouldn’t we make sure that we are addressing potential consequences based on being in the midst of a pandemic, instead of business as usual? Shouldn’t we be allocating money to face the increased cost of keeping teachers and students safe? Or we just going to rely on teachers and families doing what they always do – figuring out for themselves.
Let’s take a look at responses from this week’s poll. Responses were up this week.
The first question asked, whether your family planned to take a summer vacation this year. 37% responded, “not a chance”, while 20% indicated you were still deciding. 14% indicated that they were still planning a vacation. Here are the write-in votes,
|Can’t afford it. Lost my second job. Assuming no raise also.||1|
|We haven’t taken a family vacation in ten years. Or more.||1|
|Hell no. Another year without my step increase! BS||1|
|Maybe by Christmas||1|
|Only visiting extended family||1|
|Not sure just yet.||1|
|Yes. To a cabin on a lake with just us.|
Question 2 asked for your thoughts on MNPS school board member Rachael Elrod’s plan to re-evaluate school names and adjust where appropriate? 46% of you answered that we currently have more pressing issues. 13% of you needed more info and 12% of you indicated that it was a worthy endevor but questioned the timing. 7% said it was long overdue. Here are the write-ins,
|Worst board member ever!||1|
|White Fragility on display. Address real pressing issues like literacy please||1|
|She is useless as a board member.||1|
|Depends on what is appropriate||1|
|How about we focus on getting pay raises to staff?||1|
|She’s trying to be “woke” now||1|
|This is really not a thing.||1|
|fine, but it’s one more distraction from the poor schools we offer many kids||1|
|Depends on why|
The last question was about your opinion on last week’s reorganization of central office and the susequent announcement of new principal hirings. This one received the most responses at 131. 32% of you felt that if we were just going to reshuffle deck chairs, then it should have been completed a month ago. 18% indicated they thought it a mixed bag, while 15% said they weren’t familiar with most of the names so they were unable to give an opinion. 12% voiced deep displeasure and only 6% expressed excitement. I think it’s safe to say, this isn’t what the doctor ordered.
Here are the write-ins,
|We hired a politician to do what? And paying him what? Can we retain teachers plz||1|
|Assuming the best, mid-June is LATE||1|
|Why promote 2 highly disliked principals?||1|
|We need Dr. Underwood’s leadership across the district!||1|
|cut more to fund what we need||1|
|Expecting more cutting of positions to save money||1|
|How did it change?||1|
|I missed where Pipa landed?||1|
|Waste of money. Six figure wastes. No $ for teache||1|
|Glad they put Hawaya at OMS!||1|
|I’m fine with it. U need help selecting answers||1|
|Really the best choices?||1|
That’s it for today 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.