A STEADY HAND AT THE WHEEL IS MORE ESSENTIAL THEN EVER

“I think we’re raising whole generations who regard facts as more or less optional.
We have kids in elementary school who are being urged to take stands on political issues, to write letters to congressmen and presidents about nuclear energy.
They’re not a decade old, and they’re being thrown these kinds of questions that can absorb the lifetime of a very brilliant and learned man. And they’re being taught that it’s important to have views, and they’re not being taught that it’s important to know what you’re talking about.
It’s important to hear the opposite viewpoint, and more important to learn how to distinguish why viewpoint A and viewpoint B are different, and which one has the most evidence or logic behind it. They disregard that. They hear something, they hear some rhetoric, and they run with it.”
Thomas Sowell

“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

 

Yesterday afternoon I learned from the husband of a dear friend, that she would be spending the early part of this week committed to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation. The news made my heart ache because it’s not the first time, nor I’m afraid will it be the last. My friend you see suffers from mental illness. A chronic disease not unlike my diabetes, but viewed differently by society. With other chronic illnesses, we understand that treatment will take a lifetime of maintenance, yet for those who suffer from mental illness, our expectation is that they will somehow be cured.

My friend has dealt with those expectations first hand. Over the last decade, people kept expecting her to get better, to be cured. Unfortunately, there is no cure, only management. Medicine can mitigate the effects, but only if taken and prescribed in the proper balance. It is a disease that will eventually kill her – without proper management and a strong support system that will be sooner rather than later.

I can’t put into words how much I admire my friend. I’ve watched her fight this disease as long as I’ve known her and remain in awe. She’s taken hits, and suffered losses, that I don’t know that I would have been able to absorb. She’s been abandoned by loved ones and fallen from the path so often, yet continues to rise every day and do the best she can.

My AA sponsor used to say that the true heroes aren’t the ones that achieve spectacular success on the grand stage. It’s the ones that get up, go to work, and face the world on its terms every day.

Last night, my wife and I discussed the latest setback for our friend. As part of that discussion, we examined the importance of touchstones in our lives that allow us to continue to face the world. Those touchstones are the people and relationships that provide the needed support in order to navigate the harshness of life. They come in all forms – children, spouses, friends, parents, pets. Each vital, yet each tenuous in its own right.

The removal of any one of those touchstones leaves us vulnerable and at-risk to slip into the abyss, yet we spend precious little time tending to them. Often taking them for granted while we simultaneously cling to them.

If 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me the importance of holding on to those touchstones and not allowing them to weaken. Much has been made of the risk we face from the COVID virus, from economic factors, social upheaval, yet scant attention is paid to our mental health.

We are all angry. We are all scared. We lash out at others way too harshly, quickly demanding swift and crippling retribution for every perceived slight. Receding into strictly defined camps of “us” and “them”.

The current pandemic, and efforts to combat it, are expressed in military terms. As we fight to win the war we must not lose sight that we’ll eventually have to win the peace as well. The solutions to the future are not inherent in one camp nor the other. It is going to take all of us united and rowing in the same direction in order for future generations to succeed.

In order for that to happen, we have to protect our mental health and those of the ones who count on us as touchstones to hold our reality together. We all need to commit to being a little slower to anger – to commit to trying to understand as opposed to meting out punishment.

My friend will be released at some point this week. With her release will hopefully come new prescriptions to new medications and renewed commitments from her support system. She’ll face a new reality, every bit as daunting as the old and further colored by the past. If I know her though, she’ll embrace the challenge. It’s a spirit we all need to emulate.

Eventually, we will all emerge from this pandemic. With that release will come new prescriptions for living which bring a renewed reliance on our support system. We’ll face a new reality every bit as daunting as the old, and even further colored by the past. If we are going to navigate it, we’ll need every bit of the courage possessed by my friend. If I know us though, we’ll embrace the challenge.

THE STATE STEPS IN

Last week I wrote a lot about the lack of clear plans coming from school districts in regard to the Fall’s return to school. It appears that I’m not the only one who has noticed. Today the Tennessee State Board of Education will address that situation in a conference call meeting.

Front and center of the agenda is a proposed new emergency rule stating the following,

This emergency rule establishes the expectation for local education agencies (LEAs) and public charter schools to develop Continuous Learning Plans (CLPs) for the 2020-21 school year. LEAs and public charter schools will be required to develop and submit a CLP to the Department for approval utilizing a template created by the Department. The CLP will address how the LEA or public charter school will continue to provide quality instruction to students in the event of COVID-19 related disruptions to traditional school operations during the 2020-21 school year and ensure that LEAs and public charter schools can count days where instruction was provided pursuant to the CLP as instructional days counting toward the 180 day legal requirement, and that districts will be able to continue receiving BEP funding. An accompanying policy that further defines this rule is also proposed for approval by the Board at this meeting.

If the rule passes, and there is no reason to believe it won’t, all Tennessee school districts will be required to submit to the Tennessee Department of Education a continuous learning plan for approval by July 24th. The proposed requirements are outlined in the proposal,

The CLP shall address, at minimum, the following components as defined in State Board COVID-19 Continuous Learning Plan Policy 3.210:

  • Communications;
  • Monitoring implementation;
  • Access to instructional materials and technology;
  • Attendance procedures;
  • Educator and staff training;
  • Standards-based instruction;
  • Support for all students, including special populations and at-risk students; and how the LEA or Public Charter School will meet the requirements of T.C.A. § 49-6-3004 and T.C.A. § 49-6-201(b)(2) during a COVID-19 related disruption to school operations.

It’s clear that the board isn’t looking just for “what” districts are going to do, but “how” as well. Embedded in the plans must also be descriptions of how they are going to communicate their plans to stakeholders, including a requirement to publicly post those plans.

The seriousness of their proposed edict is illuminated in the following clause,

An LEA or Public Charter School that continues instruction during a COVID-19 related disruption to school operations in compliance with the LEA’s or Public Charter School’s approved CLP shall continue to receive Basic Education Program (BEP) funding as outlined in T.C.A. §§ 49-3-301, et. seq.

In other words, if you want your money…you better meet the requirements. It’ll be interesting to see how stringent the TDOE is in approving plans. Four weeks to compile and submit a plan with the level of detail required by this emergency requirement is no small feat unless you already have the bones of a plan in place. The next couple of weeks will reveal just how much work has been done in crafting plans that properly serves students and teachers while keeping them safe.

I for one, welcome the state board’s proposed emergency rule. Schools are slated to start in a little over a month and to date, there has been precious little insight into what that’ll bring. This forces local school districts to show their hand. You can tune in to the meeting yourself today at 2:30.

SSHHHH…DON”T CRITICIZE 

During former MNPD Director of School’s Shawn Joseph’s tenure, as more and more shortcomings became apparent, there was a push to not publicly criticize the director out of fear that it would make him unappealing for hire to other districts. The thinking was if that we just put on the brave face and acted as if everything was sunshine and roses, some other school district, or larger entity would come along and scoop him away from us. That way, nobody would have to acknowledge that any mistakes had been made and we could all move along.

Not surprisingly, it now appears that players on the state stage are employing a similar script in regard to Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. Privately more and more, of Tennessee’s leaders are privately acknowledging that she is not up to the task of leading the state’s education department, even as they remain publicly silent.

Outgoing State Senator and chair of the Senate education committee, Delores Gresham has reportedly already made the trek up to the governors’ office to tell him change is needed, and word is, she’s not the only one. But nobody wants to admit that a mistake was made, and so the governor and his staff continue to put on that brave face and pretend she is knocking it out of the park, while the only thing she is really accomplishing is making his re-election more difficult.

She’s also not helping him House Education Committee Chairman Mark White with his re-election bid either. Per recent polling, he is now reportedly trailing his challenger. I can’t help but think his public support of Mrs. Schwinn isn’t a contributing factor to difficulties.

If the word on the street can be believed, Schwinn’s appearance before the US Senate’s HELP committee was an effort orchestrated by Lamar Alexander in order to show her in a positive light to prospective suitors. Many feel that the USDOE, heading up the administration’s whole child initiative, would be a better fit for her. Time shall tell.

Last week saw the deletion of Human Capital Director David Donaldson’s Twitter account. In the past he had been an avid Tweeter – a little too avid if you ask some – and as a result, the deleting of his account raised some eyebrows. I’m not sure how much stock you can put into the move, as more and more people are abandoning social media in an effort to preserve their sanity. Perhaps that is the case here.

In comes at a curious time though, as more and more reports are seeping out of the department that multiple discrimination complaints have been filed against the department over the last several months. Indications are that those raising complaints have been strongly advised against raising their issues with the state’s Department of Human Resources. Interestingly enough while all of this is transpiring, Donaldson has been tapped to lead a recently created department initiative on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

Further raising eyebrows is that the commissioner’s twitter account appears to have been scrubbed as well. Back in April, she and Donaldson visited several local school districts. Gone are any references to those trips.

CAll of this could mean something, or it could mean nothing at all. Time will tell.

BUDGET INSANITY

On closer inspection, things are even crazier with this year’s Municipal budget and as a result, MNPS’s budget. There was much celebrating last week over Councilwoman’s Suara’s amendment to allow MNPS to borrow from its fund balance to provide a 1% COLA and reinstate step-raises for teachers. Thus addressing a long overdue need. In reality, I would urge caution because that money isn’t even in the district’s account yet, and looking to spend it might prove a little premature.

With the latest budget, Metro Government recognized that MNPS’s fund balance, or rainy day account, was dangerously low. As is the city’s, but that’s another subject for another day. As a result of this observation, both Cooper’s and Mendez’s budgets committed $29 million to MNPS to increase the fund balance to 4%.

Suara’s amendment allows access to those funds contingent on their utilization not dropping MNPS below the state-required 3% minimum. The fly in the ointment is that Metro Finance won’t issue its assurance on the district’s fund balance until late August or September.

What that potentially translates to is the board approving the increased compensation before July 1, but the monies not being available until the second quarter of the school year. If Metro Finance than verified that the money could be utilized without dropping below 3%, teachers would receive the difference in pay retroactive to July 1, the start of the fiscal year. Furthermore, MNPS ould have to figure out how to fund step-raises going forth due to drawing from an unrecurring revenue stream. That feels a little shaky.

Meanwhile, MNPS still has to cut $7 million-plus from next year’s proposed budget. Leadership has vowed that it won’t come from individual school budgets but in light of the recent central office “reorganization”, it is hard to envision where else it would come from.

Complicating things even more, the district is going to face considerable additional COVID related costs in order for schools to open come August. In looking at MNPS’s recently submitted application for CARES Act funding, the district has indicated that it is designating $6,243,329 for PPE. A figure that translates to less than $73 a student. Commissioner Schwinn recently testified to the US Senate that they estimated the cost of PPE at $100 – $150 per student. I’d also raise the question of where will the funding for PPE for teachers, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, office staff, visitors, aids, para-pros, nurses, and other essential employees come from?

I suspect we’ll purchase what is required for the first couple of months and then pray that either something changes or a new funding source is revealed.

$1,650,00 is being designated for training centered around technology integration and pedagogical support. That would allow 5500 teachers 3days of training with a  $100 a day stipend. Which is a very welcome and needed designation, but when will this training transpire? How much of that money will be dedicated to training in Wit and Wisdom?

School starts in just over a month. When is this going to happen? Perhaps instead of having teachers focus on Wit and Wisdom training, there could have been a facilitating of this training. But here we are.

If schools open, alterations in transportation willl also be required. In order to accommodate safe distance requirements, fewer students will be allowed to ride the bus mandating additional routes. Where is the money for that?

Of course, MNPS’s proposed allocation of funds does come with outgrowth to the central office. In order to administer this extra funding, we are going to need a grant manager and specialist for 2 years plus milage at an expense of $324, 841.

One more wrinkle in all of this, what if families don’t send kids back to school? What if parents instead elect to keep students home? Just 300 students, a little over 2 a school, making that decision could cost the district a minimum of $3 million in BEP money. I find that a little concerning.

MNPS’s budget has to be approved by July 1. It’s not on tomorrow’s school board meeting’s agenda. Indications are that leadership is still working on the budget and will have it ready for approval at a specially called board meeting, no date has been set for that meeting.

Anybody care to take a bet? I’m betting the meeting will be scheduled for either next Monday or Tuesday. What that means is that any push back by the board can be mitigated by the need to pass the budget by July 1. The need for urgency will trump the need for getting it right.

None of this helps calm the anxieties of stakeholders and last week the administration missed a prime opportunity to ease some of that anxiety. At a 3-day virtual conference, principals engaged in preparation for the upcoming year. Unfortunately, most of that preparation focused on previous priorities with scant time spent preparing for tomorrow’s realities. Dr. Battle herself, for some inexplicable reason, chose not to address the assembled school leaders until the very end of the conference and even then few details about the pending return to school were shared.

I must admit that while I’m a supporter of Dr. Battle’s, her decision to lead from the back end in these unprecedented times is very problematic. Principals were looking for inspiration and details which they could take back to their individual schools as a source of inspiration, and instead, they received a perfunctory address at the end of the session. A message that seemed to indicate they were on their own.

I understand that Battle’s plate is full at present, but there is nothing that should supersede leading the troops and you can’t lead the troops without inspiring individual school leaders. As a result, a prime opportunity to ease re-entry into schools was missed. These opportunities don’t come frequently and the successful leader doesn’t miss many. Let’s just hope this is part of the learning curve and we’ll see adjustment in the future.

HELP FOR FAMILIES

Starting June 15,  Tennessee families are now eligible to receive financial support for their children’s nutritional needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. This support is provided through the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program.

Under the new P-EBT program, families of children who receive free or reduced meals at school or attend a Community Eligibility Provision school may receive financial assistance to replace school meals during the months of March, April, and May due to COVID-19 school closures. The program will provide parents with $5.70 per child for each day that child qualifies for P-EBT.

I completed the application this morning – it takes 10 minutes – and was declared eligible for roughly $500 within minutes. The deadline to apply is June 29th. I wouldn’t hesitate in taking advantage of this program.

POLL RESULTS

Time now to take a quick look at the weekend’s poll results. The first question asked who you think Metro Council should appoint to fill Anne Shepherd’s seat until November. 31% of you lent your support to former teacher and literacy specialist Stephanie Bradford. Next up with 25% was “not my circus”. Coming up in third with 15% was former Hillwood principal Steve Chauncy. Personally, I’m throwing my support behind Bradford. If for no other reason than the board needs more members with classroom experience. Here are the write-in votes,

Someone that lost their post a job b/c of budget while central office shuffled 1
Waiting to hear more from these candidates 1
Anyone but Chauncy. Total disaster.

Question 2 asked for your feelings on the recently completed principal placement process. When asked to supply a grade to the effort, 29% answered, “incomplete”. 23% assigned the process a “C” and 19% a “D”. Only 2 people awarded the process an “A”. I’d like to thank HR Chief Chris Barnes for participating in our poll. Here are the write-in votes.

Process? Smoke screen for appointments for the re-shuffled hierarchy. 1
They did it theeiirr way 1
Put more central office in schools

The last question asked for your opinion on the recently passed Metro Nashville budget. Most of you, 28%, were still trying to get your head around it. 16% saw it as a necessary evil, while 15% were shopping for movers. Here are those write-ins,

Cut central office 1
What’s the point in having an opinion about this? 1
if I make last yrs pay, you get last yrs effort 1
No money to keep teachers and kids safe. Nice call from the ivory tower.

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.

 



Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Hi TC!
    I’ve been thinking about the re-entry to school and the possibility of parents initially keeping kids home (wait and see approach) and participating in virtual learning. My fear is, after the staffing in schools is complete (warm body counts those first few weeks are filed with central office) and teachers are shuffled around due to lower numbers…we’ll be hit with another crisis. Parents now decide it’s ‘safe’ to re-enroll their kids and suddenly we are stuck with overcrowded classrooms, no teachers to be hired, and no subs willing to risk working in an already drained sub pool.
    Is there anything that can or will hold parents to their educational ‘choice’ if they decide to learn remotely? I could see a big influx of kids coming in throughout the school year (big gaps in learning and instruction). As a teacher, it’s just one more worry that hasn’t been addressed. Can you research?

    • Good catch. This is not dissimilar to the issues faced annually by Buena Vista who serves a large homeless population that often don’t up until October after cuts to staffing and programming have been made. We’ll have to be very aware.

  2. corruptionnis happening with hiring. Look into it.

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