TIME TO GET OUR GAME ON

“The wise and the good never form the majority of any large society and it seldom happens that their measures are uniformly adopted…. [All that wise and good men can do is] to persevere in doing their duty to their country and leave the consequences to him who made men only; neither elated by success, however great, nor discouraged by disappointments however frequent or mortifying.”
John Jay

“my own feelings, which had been quite jubilant on the receipt of his letter, were sad and depressed. I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse”
Ulysses S. Grant, Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant: All Volumes

 

The days always seem to pass a little slower prior to the 4th of July holiday. But once the holiday is passed, it’s a race to the end of summer. The days come hurling forth at a rapid pace and before we know it, the start of school is upon us. This year is no exception. However, this year comes with heightened urgency and uncertainty, a combination that has resulted in unparalleled anxiety.

Parents and teachers have been hungry for information that will clarify and reassure heading into the new school year. What will schools look like when they re-open? Will they be safe? Should parents consider other options? Should those teachers, who are eligible, consider early retirement? These are the questions that have replaced will Johnny like his friends? I hope Mary gets Mr. Jones? What time does the bus pick them up?

This week, some answers are beginning to arrive, as the pending start of school is serving to force district leaders to show their hand. In all fairness, some districts’ administrators have been more forthcoming and transparent than others. Haywood County Schools released their plans weeks ago and Shelby County’s Joris Ray has been involved in an ongoing conversation with stakeholders throughout the summer, one that has culminated with the release of a detailed 36-page plan this week. Meanwhile, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and it’s director of Schools Dr. Adrienne Battle have chosen to play it closer to the vest leaving stakeholders to continually speculate on what the options look like.

In the past, I’ve pointed out that when administrators want to avoid making a decision on a policy they will respond by creating either a survey, a task force, or a combination of the two. MNPS has employed all of the above strategies. Early in the summer the private company POSSIP was engaged to survey parent opinion on the return to school. Much was made of the participation rate of 17k respondents, however, that 17K only reflects roughly 20% of the total district population. When you look at a break down of responses by schools (MNPS_Updated_Response_Rates) the results become even less reflective.

This is not meant as a criticism of POSSIP, They are to be commended for their efforts, and perhaps in the future, they will be able to build on these results. The inherent problem though is that the public has caught on to the ruse of surveys, and has little faith that the data garnered is used for more than evidence that an attempt was made to include stakeholders in decision making. If you are a parent or teacher, you have filled out more than your share of surveys only to see decisions run counter to views expressed by the results of those surveys. It’s reached the point that it all feels like kabuki theater.

A prime example would be MNPS’s principal search’s this past summer. I’ve heard countless tales of panels assembled under the guise of giving stakeholders a voice in principal selection, only to have tthose voices ignored in the selection process. It’s the same story over and over.

The panel selects one or two candidates. There choice is not selected, instead, an alternate choice with ties to administration is selected. After the alternative candidate is selected, little effort is made to go back and explain to the assembled panel why a decision to go in a different direction was made. The result is that stakeholders feel more disenfranchised instead of less. The prevailing feeling is one of, if you are not going to actually use my opinion, don’t waste my time, and yours, pretending to solicit it.

In June, MNPS took the next step by creating not just one, but three advisory committees(MNPS Reopening Taskforce). Initially, these committees included little representation from actual educators, but as time progressed some representation was added. It’s unclear how often the three separate groups met, but reports are that a smaller group has met daily to hammer out details over the past two weeks. Assumptions are that it would be the steering committee that was meeting daily, yet details remain cloaked in secrecy, so it’s impossible to verify exactly who is included in the group creating the actual plan.

Principals assembled in early June for a three-day virtual forum, anticipating that some indications of what the beginning of school would look like would be shared. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case. Every subject but the opening of school was covered and Dr. Battle waited until the last hour of the forum to address principals. At that time they were told to expect more information the week of July 6th.

A couple of weeks ago at a school board meeting, it was indicated that parents would be given the opportunity to choose between sending kids back to school for face to face instruction or enrolling in remote learning. At that time, parents and teachers were promised more details come the week of July 6th. Unfortunately, most parents and teachers only heard “July 6th” and the “week of” part slipped by them. Expectations for many were that details would come on the 6th, so they were decidedly disappointed to find out Monday that they wouldn’t be told more until the 9th.

Meanwhile, in an effort to appear inclusive, a series of meetings with targeted stakeholders have been hastily scheduled this week. Yesterday Dr. Battle met with a teacher cabinet comprised of individual school Teachers of the Year and with the Parent Advisory Committee. Today she meets with representatives from the student ambassadors. Meetings are conducted under the guise of giving participants a chance to weigh in on the proposed plan and to vet the still developing strategy. Participants are sworn to secrecy, the narrative being that changes and adjustments are still being made based on feedback from these meetings.

Come on, let’s quit playing games. Does anybody believe that anything being said in the meetings held this week is going to have any major impact on what will be shared come Thursday? What is going on this week is merely a continuation of a favored tactic developed during the tenure of Dr. Joseph as director of schools, one that favors the checking of boxes over actual engagement. Talk to teachers – check. Talk to parents – check. Talk to students – check. Actual input in the final draft – nil, or minimum at best.

At this point, the worse kept secret in the district is that schools will open come August remotely. In other words, the anxiety-producing decision that parents and teachers have wrestled with for 2 weeks – remote vs f2f – is now moot. Which is fine, and will probably be a welcomed announcement tomorrow, due to an uptick in COVID cases, But what should be considered an issue is that we are continuing to waste time and resources engaged in theatrics when we need to be empowering people to make plans.

Schools start in about 3 weeks. Remote learning is not a flick of the switch. As reported earlier in the summer, the computer’s promised my Mayor Cooper will not arrive in time for the start of school. Fortunately, MNPS has a dedicated IT staff that has begun repurposing computers already in MNPS’s possession and they will begin distributing them as soon as possible. Reportedly MNPS already has 70K internet hot spots in their possession and those will soon be distributed.

That still is only half the equation. The other half is teachers. Teachers need a chance to plan.

Normally by this time, teachers would be completing their plans and wrapping up preparations for the pending start of school. I know there is a narrative that teachers spend summer eating bonbons and lounging by the pool, but nothing could be further from the truth. Under normal circumstances, lesson plans would be complete and they would be engaged in the collecting of materials for the upcoming year – oh, you thought they just showed up and had everything waiting for them.

Due to district leaderships lack of urgency, they are now faced with a need to pivot and rapidly ramp up alternate plans for the Fall. It’s inexcusable, knowing that distance learning would play some role in the coming year, that administrators focused on curriculum planning instead of ensuring that all teachers were fluent in distance learning practices. Most of the information that will be delivered tomorrow, could have been delivered 6 weeks ago, therefore, giving everybody ample planning time. This last-minute decision is going to ratchet up the pressure at a time when everybody is already under pressure. Not a recipe for success.

Assistant Principals return to schools this week and they are going to have to switch gears with their principals to start making a plethora of adjustments. Re-purposing of staff will come into play along with facility utilization.

Parents need time to figure it out. The extra $600 in unemployment benefits disappearing at the end of the months is going to put a lot of people in a precarious position and mean a whole lot less flexibility for many families.

How many plans will be discarded and as a result time wasted because this was treated as a public relations excercise instead of an essential service? Transparency is a word that lot’s of people like to say but few like to live. NOne of the forth coming strategies should have been cloaked in secret.

Let’s face it face, Nashville Public Schools is now in a major time crunch and in order to navigate the coming treacherous waters, district leadership is going to have to act with a whole lot more urgency then they have throughout this summer. Some people might even have to postphone or give up vacation time. I get it leadership is hard, sometimes there are no right answers, but it’s been my experience that MNPS stakeholders are incredibly forgiving if you are straightforward and don’t underestimate them.

I’m sure tomorrow we’ll get a whole lot more answers, and with those answers will come some reassurances. But I have no doubt that with those answers will come some gaping holes. Holes that once again will be left to teachers and parents to fill. Fortunately, I have much more faith in the parents and educators of Nashville than I do in district leadership.

With that said, let’s quit playing games and get those parents and educators the information they need so they can get this game going. There is no more time to waste.

WHO?

Way back in the Spring, when Dr. Battle and her cabinet first embarked on the recently completed restructuring plan, it was envisioned that they would combine the role of chief academic officer and chief of schools into one big superstar role. To fill that position they would increase the salary to $200k and look for a recognizable rock star to fill the position. Someone just below the level of the superintendent that would weave all the strands together into a magic carpet.

At the time I voiced skepticism that such an individual could be found. The ideal candidate would have to be fluent in both the physical operations of schools as well as have a deep grasp on curriculum. Based on current circumstances it would be beneficial to have someone well versed in distance learning. In my opinion, the district was looking for a unicorn, and as a result, would have trouble filling the spot. What they were looking for was a superintendent who was not yet a superintendent but should be. Someone looking to relocate in the middle of a pandemic.

This week MNPS found their unicorn in Dr. Mason Bellamy, a veteran educator and administrator from the Clarksville-Montgomery County School System who will now oversee the academic and school support programs for Metro Schools. Bellamy has spent the last 15 years with CMCSS, since 2015 he was the executive director of elementary schools and for the last year he served in the same role for high schools.

I gotta admit, that while I’m sure that Bellamy is a talented educator, I’m a little underwhelmed. CMCSS has done some very good things over the last few years but they are a much smaller district  – 36K students and 42 schools put them at less than a third the size of MNPS. The Clarksville student body is 53% white, 29% black, and 12% Hispanic. MNPS is 42% Black, 26% Hispanic and 30% White. Bellamy’s experience lies solely in CMCSS, so I’m curious to see how that has prepared him to face the daunting challenges of a district that many believe is too big to adequately govern.

The reality is, that resume-wise, MNPS has more than one candidate who matches up with Dr. Bellamy. In that light, one has to wonder if an educator with 5 years of upper-level district management was what we were looking for, why go outside the district. For that matter, both Chris Marczack or Kimber Haliburton would have been attractive choices under the perceived criteria.

Supporters will point to the fact that CMCSS topped the state in academic achievement for four years in a row. But keep in mind that accolade is based on the result of state standardized tests. Test that tell more about the socio-economic status of students than actual learning, not to mention that the state has failed to administer the state test without any fidelity for the past 5 years.

In taking a look at the Tennessee school report card, CMCSS is slightly outperforming the state in literacy – 40.6% proficiency to 34.9%. But over the last 5 years, scores have only marginally improved. Scores jumped 5 percentage points between 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 before falling back 2 points in 2018/2019 and climbing back to 40.6 last year.

Mathematics tells a much better story with scores raising from 24.6% proficency in 2015/2016 to the current level of 42.8%. An impressive leap.

When it comes to ELA instruction CMCSS seems to fall in neither the science of reading nor the balanced literacy camp. Instead, they employ standards-based instruction that focuses on whole child development.

Some leaders chose to surround themselves with talent that pushes them and often exceeds them. Confident in their ability to lead. Some chose to surround themselves with competent people that they don’t feel threatened by. It’s their preference to coach the team-up. Neither guarentees success nor predicts failure. It’s too early in Dr. Battle’s tenure to determine which camp she falls into. but I think it’s safe to say we are beginning to get some indications.

Time will tell if Dr. Bellamy proves to be that elusive unicorn. But let me go ahead and say, welcome to Nashville.

MRS. SCHWINN GOES TO WASHINGTON

Governor Lee continues to engage in his concentrated effort to try and send Education Commissioner Schwinn to Washington on a permanent basis. Enough of his advisors have let him know that the state department of education under her tutelage is a dumpster fire. Rather than admit he made a mistake and fire her, Lee seems to think that if he shows her off to enough people in Washington, someone will come and take her off of his hands.

This week’s showcase was a special round table convened by President Trump to discuss the opening of schools. Schwinn was in attendance with representatives from MTSU and the Tennessee Department of Health. What wasn’t in attendance was any meaningful insight into how schools should proceed into the new year. Participants seemed more intent in flattering each other and the president.

Schwinn’s presence at this event borders on the comical considering how hard she’s worked to be out of town every time President Trump or his Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos comes to visit. One time going as far as to schedule a meeting out of town with a testing vendor only to not show for the meeting. Now she seems perfectly comfortable sitting between the two of them. Tennessee residents can only hope that soon Mr. Trump and Mrs. DeVos will be recommending homes for rent and favored Washington eateries to the commissioner. Ah…but one can only dream.

I also wonder if she and Governor Lee will join with President Trump in pressuring schools to be open pre-maturely for face to face learning.

QUICK HITS

While I some reservations about the members of the panel, I seldom have reservations about the work of the Educator Co-op. Registration is OPEN for their event- Antiracist Teaching, Learning, & Leading from the Classroom. Join them on Friday, July 24 at 1pm CT for this conversation and Q&A with Alicea Ford, Jose Louis Vilson, Ansley Erickson, and Christian Buggs.

It’s slowly dawning on folks just how essential schools are. New York Times op-ed writer Spencer Bokat-Lindell, marveling at how European countries were able to reopen schools, wrote, “Restarting classes is essential not only to parents’ mental health and children’s development but also to reviving the economy.” Unfortunately, it’s taken a pandemic to understand their importance and we are beginning to understand the growing cost of underfunding them for decades. Jeff Bryant has more and I encourage you to read it all.

Thanks to the entire Metro Council who signed on as a co-sponsor with their favorable vote on Resolution RS2020-430, A resolution recognizing the late Anna Jenesse Shepherd for her service to Nashville. Our continued condolences to Anna‘s family and friends.

It just came across my desk that commissioner Schwinn is bringing the hammer down on districts when it comes to their continuous learning plan. If you remember, last month the Tennessee State School Board passed a rule that all districts must submit a CLP by July 24 in order to secure their BEP funding. Now the DDOE is ramping it up even more.

They’ve released a rubric that is divided into ratings of 1-4 and instructed districts that if they want their cash they must average a 3 or higher overall and have no ones in any subject. A two means conditional approval for the purpose of funding, but must be improved to a 3 by September 30th or risk losing funding. Yikes! Apparently, someone came back from Washington in a foul mood.

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

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