“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.” – J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
“The weak-minded choose to hate,” she said. “It’s the least painful thing to do, isn’t it?”
I think it’s safe to say that school board election season is now officially upon us. In three weeks Nashville residents will be given the opportunity to cast their vote in 5 races, though two are uncontested. While next week, Metro Council member will appoint a candidate to fill the vacant seat on the board created by the untimely passing of board chair Anna Shepherd.
COVID means that the tried and true methods of campaigning – door knocking, public meetings, and polling station canvassing – are not viable this year. Candidates are being forced to find alternative means in which to get their message out. Mailers, phone calls, and social media posts have become even more vital than they were in previous elections. All of those methods have a financial cost connected to them which in turn makes fundraising, even as it becomes more difficult, more vital.
In the past, a candidate could overcome a lack of donations by just getting out and knocking more doors than their opponent. Not this year, show up at someone’s door unsolicited and you are likely to have a voter recoil and cast a vote for your opponent.
The current conditions also place more emphasis on the virtual town halls being held by numerous groups. NOAH just completed a series of forums with candidates and earlier in the week the Tennessean’s David Plaza hosted a forum with candidates in all 5 races.
The topics of Wednesday’s forum consisted mainly of the expected – school re-opening, equity, charter schools. The role of a school board member also came up. I would advise voters to pay deep attention to the answers here, but in doing so they need to consider an aspect that hasn’t received much attention – vision.
All of the current focus falls on current circumstances, but equally important is the ability to recognize future implications. We are in the midst of a time not unlike the industrial revolution. Every facet of American life is the process of evolving, but arguably, none more than public education. Those that are still holding out for a return to “normal” where the vast majority of students attend a brick and mortar school for a continuous 6 hour day are in for a rude awakening.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic parents are being forced to evaluate more than ever how to educate their children within the constraints of their personal and professional lives. As a result, they are going to care less about the delivery method and more about the delivery. Charter schools, private schools, and public schools are all going to lose families if they don’t provide a delivery method and instructional quality that meets the personal needs of families.
Virtual schooling has forced parents into forming so-called pods to assist their children with distant learning. Micro schools, a slightly larger form of the pod, are being formed as well to serve a similar purpose. This created a market where parents are willing to pay high dollars in order to hire teachers to supplement their children’s virtual learning. As a parent, if I’m already contributing money to my child’s school via the PTA, why would I not re-direct that money in a manner that would have a greater impact on my child’s learning? This new market is going to translate to greater opportunities for teachers and increased competition for their services.
School board members are going to have to push district leaders, specifically, HR departments, to be more deliberate in their retention and recruitment efforts than ever before, else staffing shortages increase. They need to really think about the opportunities and benefits a school provides that would entice teachers to join them. Everything around the teaching profession is evolving and HR departments need to evolve too.
I’ll give you an example, teacher evaluations. In the past, those evaluations have been mostly qualitative. However, with the rise in distance learning, there is going to have to be a component of quantitative evaluation. Parents are going to want assurance that teachers are actually providing the services that are advertised. So what does that look like?
There will be quite a few young teachers entering the classroom for the first time ever this year. Young teachers need more support during the best of times, but now, as we embark on a new path, they become even more essential. What do those supports look like? Supporting teachers in a live setting vs a virtual setting are two different strategies. A school board member is going to need to be able to ensure that the superintendent is considering those needs and creating policies that reflect changing needs.
Independent virtual schools are going to rise just like charter schools did 20 years ago. The Florida Virtual School already has a global academy proponent that allows students from all over the country to pay tuition and enroll. While currently, FVS has few competitors, I suspect that over the coming months there will be a rush into the market. That rush will serve as competition for charter schools, private schools, and public schools alike.
This week former Haslam Chief of Staff Mark Cate added ClassWallet to his list of clients he’s registered to lobby for at the statehouse. Stephen Susano, a principal at the Stones River Group, joins him. I doubt that they would be signing on board to represent the organization commissioned to manage voucher enrollments if they thought voucher legislation was a dead issue. I would look for enhanced voucher legislation to come down the pike in the next legislative session. School board representatives are going to have to be versed in these challenges and must push district leadership to consider the threat.
Personally, I would urge any large urban district to consider adding the position of Chief of Virtual Schools to the superintendent’s leadership cabinet. The sole charge of that individual would be to ensure that the district is providing the absolute best services available. Distance learning is not going away, even after the pandemic recedes, it is essential that districts do everything they can to address that reality.
These are just a few examples of the challenges that face new board members. Focus on the past, and you are destined to be left behind. Fall too far behind and public schools will be left to provide service only to those who have limited options. Unfortunately, those are the demographics that need even greater supports and as a result, funding schools will become an even more expensive proposition. It is a precarious precipice we now find ourselves poised on. Our collective actions will determine whether we step back from the cliff or plunge over into the abyss.
Earlier in the week, financial disclosures were due for the MNPS school board race. Disclosures can be accessed via the election commission web site. Per usual, they tell some interesting tales. It seems this year has brought a huge influx of donors contributing less than $100. District 3 candidate Brian Hubert reports $5349.26 in small donations – no idea who contributed the 26 cents. District 9 candidate Russelle Bradbury, who’s campaigned on a promise of not accepting anything higher than a $100 donation, is reporting $11,381.59 in contributions – likewise the 59 cents. For context, that number rivals the total amount I raised in my run two years ago and my number was near the top in money raised for all individual candidates.
The beauty of the less than $100 donation is that you don’t have to identify who gave it to you and as a result is a viable vehicle to conceal influence. It affords me the opportunity to collect the names of 10 people in my neighborhood and donate $100 in each of their names and no one being the wiser. I’m not trying to cast aspersions, but based on experience, I’m a bit skeptical that any candidate has 113, or even 53, individual donors willing to contribute $100 each and can’t help but suspect that somebody is trying to hide something.
In fairness, a look at Bradbury’s opponent Abigail Taylor’s disclosure and it’s quickly apparent that she has a number of family members that have the capability to donate substantial sums to her candidacy. That’s a little concerning, but at least the information is out there allowing us to interpret it how we will. Hers is a known funding source. With the former two, we are left to speculate.
Even worse though is District 1, where no candidate disclosures are available and only Barry Barlow’s name is even listed on the commission web site. This should be highly problematic for voters.
One more note on the district 3 race. Hubert has been presenting himself as kind of an “outsider” candidate while framing his opponent Emily Masters as the handpicked candidate of current school board member Jill Speering. I’d question that framing in light of who his campaign manager is, Alex Ryan. Ryan is a longtime Democratic political operative who has worked on a number of council campaigns in the past and has past ties to the Calvert Street Group. Per their web site,
Calvert Street is a nationally-recognized consulting firm that specializes in crafting local campaigns to win land-use battles and nonpartisan elections across a wide variety of industries and communities. We hire the best political minds from both sides of the aisle to turn around seemingly impossible situations. Through community organizing, coalition building and grassroots mobilization, we can secure the necessary support to deliver a win.
Hmmm…so the political outsider conveniently finds a political insider to lead his campaign. It begs the question – who connected them? Normally financial disclosures would provide the answer but since Hubert has primarily small donors, that question remains moot. There have been rumors that a certain retired school board member is working behind the scenes in an effort to use Hubert to exact his vengeance on Speering for not following orders from him in regard to Shawn Joseph. I would probably dismiss that until I remember that a certain Lookout reporter who has served as a long term stenographer for the aforementioned was formerly employed by the Culvert Street Group. Probably just a coincidence.
Let’s see what the next three weeks bring, but I urge you to fully vet all of those running for the school board. In doing so I also encourage you to expand your scope. Don’t just look at them through the lens of past and current circumstances, but consider their vision and ability to look forward as well.
Early voting starts today.
FLORIDA VIRTUAL SCHOOL REALITY
At Tuesday’s MNPS school board meeting there was limited discussion about the pending contract with the Florida Virtual School. Board members Jill Speering and Gini Pupo-Walker asked very pertinent questions that deserve further explanation. There has been a great deal of effort to paint the new contract as just an extension of an existing contract between MNPS and FVS. That’s not an accurate portrayal.
The current contract is solely for the purpose of providing a core curriculum to MNPS’s virtual school. At $22,800 a year, it is more of a maintenance contract than an actual curriculum provider contract. It grants limited access to MNPS and ensures that FVS will regularly update the curriculum. It was already extended out to March 31 earlier in the year om March 22. (1-Contract Financial Summary)(2- Contract Terms).
The new contract is considerably more robust. It is comprised of three components – access to the 191 courses created by FVS, access to teachers, and professional development. Making the argument that this is similar to the current contract is like me buying a Porsche and telling my wife I just bought a car, like our old one. Yes, they are both cars, but that is where the similarities end.
Speering asked about the increased responsibilities for parents and executive director of teaching and learning David Williams responded that he anticipated a “small order of a couple hours a day.” Dr. Battle went on to paint a picture of a need for parental supervision in the beginning but that need would dissipate as time went on. An argument I don’t think would jibe with what transpires in the homes of most of Nashville’s families. My children are in 5th and 6th grade and I don’t envision a time where I’ll be able to independently turn them loose and expect they’ll meet the required number of hours in a quality manner. No matter how you sell it, there is going to be an increased load on parents, hence the growing market for tutors.
Ms. Pupo-Walker asked about provisions for English Learners and those children requiring specialized service. No disrespect to Dr. Battle, but her response was the very definition of word salad.
For the record, FVS has an ELL component. Per their website,
The mission of the ESOL Department is to ensure that ELLs are initially identified based on their responses to the Home Language Survey and that subsequently their English language proficiency is properly assessed to determine qualification for the ESOL program. ELLs are provided with equal access to all categorical programs and warrant comprehensible instruction to be able to meet their language and academic needs. The ESOL Department certifies that ELLs have access to academic content that is equal in scope, sequence, extensiveness, and complexity to the curricular offerings available to all FLVS Full Time students.
Now they are admittedly at a disadvantage in meeting the needs of students with special education requirements and that is an area where it vital that MNPS makes accommodations.
To reiterate, FVS is clearly the best option under the present circumstances, but district leadership does themselves no favors when they fail to give clear, transparent answers to stakeholder questions. They have to do a better job of selling the virtual option and reassuring families and teachers.
One of the finest educators that MNPS has ever produced is hitching up his family’s wagon and heading west. Formerly a principal at Maplewood HS, and most recently the number 2 guy in Maury County, Ron Woodard has been hired to be the Executive Director of Secondary Learning for Springfield Public Schools. That’s Springfield, as in Missouri. Hats off to Woodard, and congratulations to Springfield. You are getting an ace, but we are going to eventually want him back
Board member Gini Pupo-Walker is issuing an invitation to join her next week for a conversation about the role of students on school boards. It’s an opportunity to hear a proposal to add student representatives to the MNPS Board of Education and offer your feedback. These days student voice is more important than ever!
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Questions around schools and COVID continue to swirl. The Tennessean’s Meghan Mangrum and Kerri Bartlett are doing their best to provide answers. Check them out.
Over at the TNEd Report, Andy Spears has an update on a recently released review of the state’s BEP Formula. In related news, a date has finally been set to hear arguments in Tennessee’s 5-year battle over BEP. Per ChalkbeatTN,
Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle set the long-awaited trial date during a conference call last week with attorneys in the case. The litigation pits school districts in Memphis and Nashville against the state over whether Tennessee allocates enough money for K-12 education, especially for its urban students.
That’s still a long way away, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
An interesting note, I keep hearing that kindergarten enrollment for MNPS, and I assume other districts, is running low. My assumption is that due to current circumstances parents are waiting a year to start their kids. That means next year’s class is going to be a big one. One more thing for MNPS’s recruiters to keep in mind when planning for staffing needs going forward.
Sad news, North Nashville. Rev. CT Vivian passed away earlier this morning. Vivian had a huge presence in the Nashville Student Movement, as is clear in Tennesseans “Because Of You” series. The Reverend played a pivitol role in the showdown with Mayor Ben West. Condolences go out to the family and friends of Reverend CT Vivian. He certainly left Nashville better than he found it.
That’s it for now. We’ll see you on Monday.
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.
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