NASHVILLE, WE HAVE A PLAN

“Things happen. The only thing that matters is how we deal with the now. Either we face the difficult moral decisions with ever-stronger responses, or we do not. This is what separates the mensch from the asshole. Full stop.”
Olen Steinhauer, All the Old Knives: A Novel

“It is not a matter of what is true that counts, but a matter of what is perceived to be true.”
Henry Kissinger

Today I turn 55 years old. I’m not sure what that means, other than in the words of Bob Seager, “I’m a little bit older and a lot less bolder than I used to be.”

My kids awake and begin their daily routines. Watching them – they are now 10 and 11- I can’t help but try to remember what I thought 55 would look like at their age, and for the life of me, I can’t pull up any real memories. 55 is old enough to have lived some shit, but not too old to have run out of possibilities. At 55, Pablo Picasso completed his masterpiece, “Guernica.”. Mao Zedong was 56 when he founded the People’s Republic of China.

At 55, Richard Daniel Bass reached the summit of Mount Everest, and Italian physicist Alessandro Volta invented the voltaic cell. Ella T. Grasso became the first woman to become an American governor on her own, not as the wife of a previous incumbent. At 56, Doug Hughes self-published the world’s longest Christmas newsletter (a 160-page, perfect-bound, full-color paperback book), so maybe if I start next week…

I guess the point is, I never pictured being this age – my wife says that’s a stupid thing to say – but now that I’m here, it ain’t bad. I’m about as financially secure as I was at 18, but I’m also a little healthier due to having left my vices behind decades ago. So I guess it’s a fair trade-off. I’ve got a wife and two kids that serve as blessings greater than I deserve. The biggest gift of being this age is the ability to know that things will always work out and get better. I don’t have to rely solely on faith anymore because…well I’ve repeatedly witnessed the cycle of life and have lived to attest that good times always follow the bad.

While I’ve witnessed the incredible cruelty that people are capable of, I’ve also experienced the inexplicable kindness that they are capable of showing as well. 55 years has shown me that the good guys far outnumber the bad guys.

The other gift that I’m grateful for is that in 55 years I’ve never lost my idealism nor the willingness to fight for them despite the consequence. I’ve gotten better at knowing when to pick my fights and how to use a stiletto as opposed to always grabbing a shotgun, but I’m still not afraid to tilt at a windmill.

With age has come the ability to better separate the argument from the person and to truly realize that we are all fighting our own personal battles beneath the surface, so kindness is always applicable.

So here we go, 55 is in the books and on to the next one. I don’t know what the next year will bring, but if the last five and a half decades are any indications, it won’t be dull. Thank you to all who have helped me make it to this milestone. I’ll do my best to make sure your efforts weren’t for naught.

AT LEAST WE HAVE A PLAN

Yesterday, the worst kept secret in Nashville education circles finally went public. Dr. Battle addressed teachers first in the morning and then clued in the general public at a 1pm press conference. MNPS had made the decision that when schools opened on August 4th instruction would be delivered through a virtual platform.

She announced the district’s plan by acknowledging the devastating impact of the current pandemic,

“I’m not a public health expert, but I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with the data and information in front of us and the implications for the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff,”

Her words relieved many a teacher and parent who were concerned about health risks due to ever-growing COVID case numbers. However, for those parents are both employed, either from home or face to face, the announcement did not come without additional anxiety. The balance between monitoring children and continuing to earn an income could become an untenable proposition for many families throughout the month of August.

In announcing her plan, Battle walks a precarious tightrope. She has to account for people’s health but error too far on the side of caution and she runs the risk of alienating parents and giving them the impetus to pursue other alternatives. Losing students could have devesting long term effects for the district. In my opinion, yesterday’s announcement struck the right balance, but she’s got to follow up quickly with more concrete details. And frankly, a little more of a sense of urgency wouldn’t hurt.

As I predicted two weeks ago, MNPS will be contracting with the Florida Virtual School to provide curriculum for remote instruction. FVS is probably the best option available, but in no way should it be considered an optimal one. Exactly how the district will utilize the services of FVS was left a little vague, and yesterday teachers and parents were once again left to surmise what day to day instruction would look like.

Per Dr. Battle, both synchronous and asynchronous instruction will take place with students receiving on average 2 hours of daily instruction. Tennessean writer Mehgan Mangrum offers further clarification,

Learning time will vary based on the age of students and the content, she later clarified. On average, up to at least six and a half hours of content and instruction will be available to students through the virtual learning platform per day and students will have access to all course content 24/7. 

MNPS teachers will be expected to deliver the synchronus instruction, using the FVS curriculum. They will be able to deliver instruction either from their classroom or home. This was done to ensure uniformity across the district and cut down on the preparation time required by teachers. It is still unclear though how much actual time a day teachers will spend teaching. It is also unclear exactly how the asynchronous materials will be delivered.

FVS employs certified teachers. It is possible that the district will utilize some of those teachers remotely to deliver instruction. This gives the district some flexibility with schools who are not currently fully staffed, or in the event current teachers become ill and substitutes are not available. Dr. Battle has repeatedly said that nobody’s jobs are in jeopardy and that she is fully committed to maintaining current staffing levels. It should be noted though that the district still has over 150 openings.

The plan is for all curriculum to be housed in the district’s virtual platform, Schoology by July 17th. Teachers would then have access to it and could begin sketching out what a typical day looks like. There will be a great deal of room for teachers to customize in order to meet their student’s needs and therefore each child’s experience will be a little different. It’s important to note that students will remain tied to their current school of enrollment. The curriculum will remain the same for students when schools open for face 2 face instruction.

My position on the plan is not one of either endorsement or criticism. I don’t think given the current conditions that it would be possible for anyone to develop a plan that is devoid of fault. This one serves to check as many boxes as possible given both timing and financial restrictions. Neither of which should be discounted.

On one hand, I am grateful for Dr. Battle’s commitment to the safety and well-being of MNPS’s students and teachers. Providing face to face instruction by August 4 would have caused more trouble than good and put too many people at risk.

On the other hand, I worry about the long term effect on students not being in the classroom. Peer to peer learning is so essential to childhood development, both cognitively and socially, and I don’t know how you even begin to replace that component in a remote setting. The economic ramifications of not fully opening schools also can not be ignored.

While many may balk at the implications involved with the opening of schools and the economic health of the country, to act as if the relationship is completely separate is not an accurate portrayal either. The two entities enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The economy can not operate at full capacity without schools being open, and schools rely on an economy that is running at full, or near-full, capacity to ensure proper funding.

Nashville is currently putting some financial burdens on it’s residents that need to be acknowledged. Asking people to shoulder a 34% tax increase at a time when record numbers are unemployed, and earning power is diminished due to child care needs, is a lot to ask. Especially when a not-insignificant portion of the revenue generated by the tax increase is being directed toward schools. Care needs to be taken that a backlash towards schools and teachers isn’t inadvertently created going forth.

A lot of questions around Dr. Battle’s proposed plan still exist. Will there be adequate technology available for students? The district says that the 17k hot spots currently in their possesions are enough to provide adequate wi-fi for those students who lack access and steps are being taken to re-purpose existing computers to provide students with access while MNPS awaits the delivery of new computers.

My biggest concern remains, how does MNPS plan to meet the needs of those students with IEPS and English Language learners. FVS does have some provisions for EL students but acknowledges their limitations when it comes to those students requiring specialized services. The district has committed to creating Continuous Learning Individual Plans(CLIP) for all those requiring individual services, but frankly, the district’s response of “we are working on it”, along with a message that parents need to keep advocating, is not adequate. Hopefully, clearer answers will become available sooner rather than later.

In light of everything, in my estimation, what’s most important is that we now have a plan and a framework that can be fleshed out. I’m confident in MNPS’s teacher’s ability to take a skeleton plan and fill it with substance. Now that a framework has been, I’m sure more explicit details will quickly follow.

I would offer district leadership caution in playing their cards to close to the vest. In recent months the current administration has shown a propensity to adhere to previous administrations’ tendency to act in a top-secret manner. A practice that didn’t serve either the Register or Joseph administrations well. Transparency is a word more easily mouthed than practiced, but in order to govern effectively is essential.

A couple more things will need to take place in the near future. First, the MNPS school board has to approve the funding in order for the district to contract with the Florida Virtual School. On Tuesday they are slated to vote on a contract with FVS that has a duration of 5 years and is not to exceed 5 million dollars. In the first two years of the contract, funds are supposed to be drawn from federal CARES act money, with years 3-5 coming out of the operating budget.

Currently, this contract proposal resides on the consent agenda. That means it can be passed along all the other contracts up for a vote on the consent agenda with no discussion. Hopefully, a school board member will pull it from the consent agenda and ask for clarification of the scope of work, which currently states,

Contract is for virtual course curriculum and provision of Instructional Services that offer Tennessee state-certified teachers for schools lacking certified staff in both short-term and long-term situations.

The other entity that has to provide a stamp of approval is the state department of education. As I previously mentioned, last month, the Tennessee State Board of Education created a rule requiring all Tennessee school districts to provide the TDOE a continuous learning plan. Last week the state released the rubric for that plan. The department has instructed LEA’s that in order for them to remain eligible to receive their BEP money they must average a 3 or better on the rubric and not have any 1’s. Those who receive 2’s will conditionally retain funding until September 30th, giving them an opportunity to adjust.

Needless to say, there has been push back by LEA’s on the withholding of funding. Arguments have been raised that the withholding of school funding is beyond the scope of the department and that to do so is not permitted. That’s a welcome interpretation but the wording on the rule passed by the state board is pretty clear, as is their intention.

  1. 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.

All of this puts State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn in the odd position of choosing which boss to serve. Chiefs of Change and SCORE have long been working through her in implementing a universal standards-based curriculum. FVS serves that purpose, giving her impetus to approve MNPS’s proposed CLP.

On the other hand, she’s been paling around with President Trump as of late, to the point that her name has surfaced as a possible replacement to Betsy DeVos should Trump win re-election. It’s no secret that the president wants schools opening up on time with face to face instruction. Giving MNPS a few “ones” on their CLP provides a vehicle in which to pressure them into opening schools, with students attending class in person.

The dilema. The dilema. Trump and Governor Lee vs SCORE and Chiefs for Change, whats a girl to do?

Details should flow fast and furious over the coming weeks and with those details less anxiety. At least that’s the hope.

 

QUICK HITS

Over the last couple of weeks, there has been much conversation around testing kids upon their return to school. Buried in yesterday’s news was how MNPS planned to do that. MAP testing, administered by the district 3 times a year, will be given again this year. MAP is normally scheduled during the first 30 days of the school years and measures student learning in both math and ELA and should give a clear indication of where kids currently are with their learning.

On a state level, questions have surfaced around the status of TDOE Human Capital head David Donaldson, who has been strangely quiet over the last 2 months. In Nashville, similar questions are starting to rise about recently retired school board member, and serial tweeter, Will Pinkston. Pinkston has been quiet on social media since the end of June. While a welcome relief, it is a little surprising considering that long time nemesis John Little is running for Anna Shepherd’s untimely vacated school board seat, Nashville charter schools have received millions in PPP money from the federal government, and the districts proposed reliance on Florida Virtual School. Any one of these subjects would normally be sufficient to bring him to the top like a bass chasing a jitterbug. Yet, publicly he’s refrained from comment. Eyebrows are raising.

The Tennesseans Meghan Mangrum is looking for some feedback, per Twitter…Metro Nashville parents, The @Tennessean would love to hear your thoughts/praise/concerns regarding @MetroSchools‘ plan to start the school year virtually. Feel free to email mmangrum@tennessean.com, reply to this tweet or direct message me!

Early Voting begins a week from today. Why wait until Election Day? Choose from 11 locations, 14 days (including 3 Saturdays), hours convenient for YOU. Remember 3 school board seats are up for grabs. If you need more info about the candidates check out NPEF’s candidate profiles.

The agenda for next week’s MNPS School Board’s naming of schools committee is out. Make sure you check out the board agenda to see some proposed policy changes in regard to the naming of schools. Proposed policy changes will require namings to be limited to state or local leaders who have made an outstanding contribution to Nashville’s public education or to the progress of the city of Nashville through their community or civic actions. The person’s “principal legacy” (i.e. the key activity, advocacy, or accomplishment for which the person is most known) must align with or reflect the MNPS mission, vision, and core values and beliefs. The living person’s actions, career, or principal legacy must be peerless, extraordinarily exceptional, and generally recognized as being of substantial historic significance to Nashville’s history. A school may be named for a living person only after a separate and specific vote of the board that recognizes and attests the person has rendered exemplary service to Nashville’s public education or to the progress of the city of Nashville, and that they are worthy of this honor. There’s more, so be sure to tune in.

Here’s a little story you might have missed. This week a Davidson County Chancery Court has ruled in favor of Karrie Marren of Williamson County in a lawsuit against the Tennessee School Boards Association regarding public records request involving school boards statewide. This is important because TSBA had denied her request claiming they were a non-profit private entity and as such not subject to the state’s public records laws. The judge didn’t see it that way due and saw TSBA as “the functional equivalent of a governmental agency.” There are a whole bunch of private advocacy groups that probably ought to pay attention to this ruling as they too could be subject to open record requests they’d previously denied.

Questions continue to swirl around MNPS’s recently completed central office reorganization and principal hiring process. It appears that there was little uniformity when it came to the number of interviewers on a candidate panel, some panels consisted of 3 members, while others consisted of 4 or 5. In the case of principals, some panels were much larger and included interviewers who were currently direct reports to candidates. There also seem to be questions around the scoring of candidates. We’ll continue to dig deeper. In order to improve the culture of MNPS it is imperative that one friends and family plan isn’t replaced by another.

That’s it for now. We’ll see you on Monday.

Till 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.

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

1 reply

  1. Happy Belated Birthday! Love the blog.

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