“Seek not the favor of the multitude; it is seldom got by honest and lawful means. But seek the testimony of few; and number not voices, but weigh them.”
“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, and I stood by him when he was drunk, and now we stand by each other.”
As I have previously mentioned, in a past life I worked in and ran a call center that took thousands of phone calls a day during the fourth quarter of the year in order to enroll participants in their workplace benefits. A major part of my job was troubleshooting tech problems. It seemed like they were never-ending, as was my frustration. Every day was one long battle with the IT department.
One year towards the end of my tenure, I found myself sharing a row on an airplane with an IT specialist from Portland. We talked about numerous things – music, children, and restaurants – until eventually, we got around to the challenges of technology.
“You know,” he said to me, “Most people approach the whole subject from the wrong angle.”
“How so?”, I responded with a hint of skepticism.
“In order for any of this technology to function as advertised, there are so many little things that must go right. If just one of those minuscule things is out of line, it all crashes. Yet we get so upset and so frustrated when technology fails us that we fail to see the miracle that any of this even works at all. And things are improving every day.”
I initially dismissed his statement. But since then, I’ve reflected on what he’s saying and he’s absolutely right. Right now there are tens of thousands of kids that will sign on and begin receiving instruction remotely from a live teacher. Think about that for a minute. Think of all the minute details involved in making that happen.
Sure, some will have trouble signing on. Some will get booted off. For others, there will be various other challenges that will need to be overcome. But the fact remains, what is happening right now, all across Nashville, is something that few could have envisioned as a reality a mere 12 months ago.
So while I’m certainly not calling for people to stop being critical, I do think that every once in a while we need to stop a minute and appreciate, that we are in the midst of a miracle. Albeit an imperfect one, but none the less, a miracle.
That’s pretty damn cool.
THE NEVER ENDING STUMBLING, BUMBLING, FUMBLING, CIRCUS THAT IS THE LEADERSHIP OF THE TNDOE.
Where to begin with the fiasco that is the Tennessee Department of Education? Last week we talked about Commissioner Schwinn having to walk back plans involving child well-being checks. Just the latest in a seemingly never-ending string of bad news stories emanating from her department. The Commissioner seems to rival former MNPS Superintendent Shawn Joseph in her inability to avoid bad press and lawsuits.
This latest blow-up derives from an initiative that would have granted powers to the TNDOE to interview and collect data on every family in Tennessee with school-age children. The plan would have utilized community partners across the state, including teachers in some circumstances, in an effort to talk with every child in order to ensure their well-being. Parent approval was needed for individual interviews with children, but if a parent refused it was to be noted in the family’s file.
Needless to say, it was a strategy that didn’t sit well legislators who quickly found themselves on the receiving end of angry phone calls and emails from constituents. Rep Jeremy Faison told The Tennessean he was worried the original guidance gave more power to local school districts to check in on families than even the Department of Children’s Services. Representative Cerpicky went even further,
“We firmly oppose this type of data collection and overreach by the state government,” Cepicky wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday. “We are working right now to get a repeal of this program. This mandate from the government coming in and talking to our children is totally unacceptable and I will work to oppose any form of this program being forced on our children and families. If you are asked to participate in this program please let me know.”
Between pushing districts to administer tests to children as soon as possible to assess learning loss and these child well-being checks, the department seems to send a message that children being out of school and under the tutelage of their parents has caused incredible damage to them, and without quick intervention by the department of education, children are doomed. I would take exception to that narrative.
Yes, some children are in dangerous and abusive situations. COVID has made it infinitely more difficult to identify and address those situations. And yes, there will probably be learning loss for some children that don’t have access to books and other resources to help with their growth. But I will continue to argue against the rush to declare student education as being in a state of emergency and the argument that children are now hopelessly behind.
As education writer, and former teacher, Peter Greene points, out much of what we accept as reality with school is based on arbitrary rules of what kids should be learning sprinkled with a dash pushing our own personal agendas.
But step one is to recognize that all of this stuff is made up, created by humans with a range of intents and wisdom, and as humans, we are perfectly capable of unmaking it up and remaking something new up in its place. We can stop the stupid noise about where students are relative to some made-up standard and stop worrying about how a real pandemic response might require us to rewrite some made-up rules.
The vast majority of Tennessee children liven in loving homes populated by parents that have gone through extraordinary efforts to protect and nurture their children and their maturation. Yes, we must do more to ensure that those exceptions receive the attention and services they need, but in doing so we can not dismiss, nor downplay the efforts of Tennessee parents.
Strangely, with one hand Schwinn and Governor Lee are busy rending their garments over the need to protect children, while the other is placed firmly on the back of children, pushing them into the path of danger. Yesterday, both continued their heavy-handed drive for schools to open in person despite mounting evidence that to do so would put children and their teachers at risk.
Try to reconcile this for me, Governor Lee thought it was acceptable to create a database of individual family data but in arguing for children to re-enter schools, he refuses to create and share a database for the number of COVID cases per district. During yesterday’s press conference Lee and Schwinn both repeatedly referred to a “dashboard” that the TNDOE had created. It didn’t take but a minute for News Five’s Phil Wuilliams to point out that what they were talking about, was not in fact what they were promoting.
The two apparently have no qualms about forcing Tennessee residents into harm’s way, but Ms. Schwinn seems to have no problem protecting the safety of Illinois residents. Sophie Maya Mann, a proud Chicago resident, was recently hired as an accountability data manager with the department of education. Ms. Mann announced her new position by reassuring colleagues that she wouldn’t be leaving Chicago.
Now unless the TNDOE has opened up a satellite office in Chicago, I think it’s pretty safe to say – pun intended – that Ms. Mann is working from the comfort of her home. So while Ms. Schwinn and the Governor feel it’s imperative that Tennessee students return to school buildings as quick as possible, the same urgency doesn’t exist for department of education employees new hires.
It should be noted that as a whole, department employees are currently working from home, the difference being that they are all residents of Tennessee. To be fair to Ms. Mann, Ms. Schwinn has permitted numerous former department heads to work remotely from Texas, Michigan, Florida, and Baltimore.
Here is some more irony for you. Tennessee code requires proof of citizenship in order to access the state’s public records, but no such requirement exists to manage those records and the people charged with maintaining them.
Some of you may be thinking right now, “Come on TC. This one is probably super qualified with tons of experience. We need the most talented people, and sometimes we need to bend a little to get them.”
That’s a fair counter-argument, but unfortunately, Mann’s resume does not lend itself to such an argument. As I wrote back in May,
Mann did work for two months as an editorial associate with Towards Data Science, and 8 months as a recruitment coordinator for BrainChild Technology, and 6 months as a Program Fellow for Breakthrough Greater Boston, and 9 months…well you get the picture, no need to list the other 6 jobs she’s had since graduating from Northwestern in 2018 and earning her Masters from Harvard in 2019.
Unfortunately, Mann’s hiring is beginning to look less and less like an outlier as it’s laid alongside other department hires. Word on the proverbial street is that Schwinn campaigned hard behind the scene against respected administrator Tess Stovall getting the Executive Director role for the recently created Charter Commission. Scuttlebut has it that Schwinn did not want the position to be filled by someone from Tennessee, let alone affiliated with the state board of education. Schwinn’s disdain for all things connected to the state board is a poorly kept secret. Apparently, Schwinn was of the position that the Charter Commission should merely be an extension of the Department of Education. Not unlike how she views the textbook commission.
The more data we collect on the commissioner, the more she continues to be a study in contrasts. She talks endlessly about the need to address the mental health and safety of children while rushing to open schools before it is safe. She accepts a job in Tennessee while but then gives appearances of not valuing the abilities of the state’s citizens. She is a self-avowed Democrat serving at the beck and call of a Republican who is openly supportive of President Trump. She claims to support public education yet her experiences come from, and she draws staff from, the very organizations serving to permanently disrupt public education. All the flipping around only serves to make me dizzy and contributes to a picture of someone lacking substance.
Somebody needs to ask her about Core Knowledge Foundation, Dr. Hirsch, and other architects of Common Core State Standards input into curriculum created by the Department of Education and made available to districts. I was under the impression that Governor Lee had promised to rid the world of Common Core State Standards, yet we are.
In my 54 years on this earth, I’ve discovered that people are creatures of habit. Unless painfully encouraged to change their ways, they keep doing what they always do. Nobody has ever forced Penny Scwinn to change her ways, she’s is instead continually allowed to fail upwards. Perhaps next week that will change.
Schwinn was scheduled to answer questions from House lawmakers next week. Unfortunately, committee chairman Mark White is running for re-election and stands a good chance of losing. As a result, he doesn’t want to make waves that may tilt things in his oppnents favor. Per usual, protecting political interests win out over protecting the state’s children, Schwinn’s appearance has been canceled. Hopefully the voters of Memphis take note.
Behind the scenes, Governor Lee has been confronted by some of his staunchest supporters over the performance of Commissioner Schwinn. To some, he’s politely ignored their counsel. To some, he’s reacted angrily, going as far as to curse them out. To others, he’s expressed surprise that they would take the position of expressing a lack of confidence in Mrs. Schwinn. Through it all, he’s emulated the chorus of a George Jones song,
Won’t you let me, baby, just a-kind of hang around
I’ll always love honey, and I’ll never let you down
I’ll never love another even if I can
Well, come to me baby, I’m a one-woman man
There are cracks in the veneer though. As of late the unofficial, unofficial position of the Governor’s office has changed to one of being disappointed but still committed. At least they are getting closer to how the rest of us feel. Next week we’ll take a look at who’s doing what and who’s making what at the TNDOE.
If you’ll remember, recently we talked about the Governor heading up to the Northwest corner of Tennessee to campaign for one of his voucher soldiers, James Stevens, who was getting pushed in the election by a challenger. Lee couldn’t let his pal lose and so he dragged Commissioner Schwinn up north to serve as his beard in while supporting Stevens. It couldn’t be a political event with the commissioner in attendance, could it? Well, not surprisingly, ever-reliable Channel 5 News investigator Phil Williams caught the Governor doing a little extra work.
Seems Lee managed to squeeze in a couple of opportunities to drum up the vote while touting the efforts of the DOE in supplying PPE to school districts. PPE that many districts are still awaiting delivery on despite school being underway. Others call his efforts insufficient.
Seeing as Obion County is a small county and the state is merely supplying each teacher with a kit that includes (2) cloth masks, (1) 100-count box of gloves, up to 20 oz of hand sanitizer and up to a 100-count container of disinfectant wipes, Lee could have probably just thrown the kits in the trunk of the car and dropped them off. Instead, he chose to fly while offering the following humorous defense,
“The commissioner of education was traveling with me to do an educational event,” Lee said, “To be efficient in travel and not have two different travel modes, she ended up at that event with me as well. I thought it was entirely appropriate.”
Since the Governor was the commissioner’s ride she went ahead and attended the political rally as well. After all, a girl has to wait somewhere right?
But I gotta ask, who paid for the gas and the Commissioners time? If you answered Tennessee taxpayers…winner, winner, chicken dinner.
A heat map of Schoology access across the district paints an interesting picture of participation. Blue indicates semi-regular usage, while red indicates areas of concern. Where there is no color, regular access exists. It’s worth noting that many of the areas where you would think there would be low participation are in fact signing in more regularly than anticipated. Unfortunately, it also confirms some of our worse fears. South Nashville has a heavy immigrant population and it’s clear more needs to be done in order to get those students on board. Still, there is some cause for optimism here.
Next Tuesday will be the last board meeting for two of MNPS’s most stallworth defenders – Chair Amy Frogge and former vice-chair Jill Speering. To say the two have gone above and beyond for their constituents and the city of Nashville is an understatement. Both have been tireless advocates at great personal expense. Their presence on the board will be greatly missed, but they’ve certainly earned the right to ride off into the unset, secure in the knowledge that they are leaving the district better then they found it.
The only pressing unfinished business left behind by Frogge and Speering, that I wish has been addressed, is the joining with Memphis and Williamson County in advocating for state testing requirements be waived this year. With testing advocate Gini Pupo-Walker poised to take the chair seat next year, I have little faith that MNPS will join the aforementioned in requesting a testing waiver. A move that is only beneficial to Nashville students, as under current circumstances it’s impossible to produce comparable data, let alone any with any validity.
Good news for Nashville’s teachers arrives this week. Sales tax collection numbers are in and last month shows district receipts are only off 3.67 million dollars. For the year, the district fell short $18,387,367.28. Now that may not sound like good news, but remember the district cut almost triple that last year in expenses in anticipation of an even greater shortfall. That means that the district fund balance will likely get an unanticipated boost, which increases the likelihood of the approved step-raises going into effect for teachers. If you’ll remember, those step-raises were approved contingent on the district’s fund balance remaining above 4% and early indications are that the percentage could be between 6 and 8%. While we don’t have the definitive word yet, this is cause for some optimism, at a time optimism is sorely needed.
An interesting article out of Denver. According to today’s ChalkbeatCO, the city’s principals have formed their own union and are asking for recognition from the school district. The newly formed Denver School Leaders Association consists of 196 principals and assistant principals, representing 59% of school leaders in the district. Principals are organizing in order to have a greater voice in big district decisions, such as whether to reopen schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, how to reform the district’s controversial school ratings system, and whether to close struggling schools.
There is no doubt that this transition to virtual learning has been extremely difficult for many people. District leaders have asked for a tremendous amount of grace and flexibility from teachers and families, not to mention long hours and heavy labor. In response, both have delivered.
I get the pleasure of listening through a closed to my wife and her cohorts teach every day. Just minutes ago, I stuck my head in the kids’ rooms and watched them engrossed in classes in a manner not dissimilar to what I’d see when walking the halls of their schools. Y’all are amazing. Despite all the challenges and adversity, teaching is happening and as a result kids are learning, It ain’t perfect, but it’s ever-improving.
Often times, this all feels unsustainable and the weight feels like it’s going to crush us. Those are the times for reflection and celebration of the little victories. Six week ago, who would have thought any of this was possible. Six weeks from now we’ll again marvel at how far we’ve come. Never forget that you are a part of a historical event, and your actions are every bit as heroic as those that students study in today’s schools. As we speak, legends are being written.
Me, I’m just the chronicler of your deeds, it’s you, the administrators, teachers, parents, and students that are writing the future. From the bottom of heart, thank you. I know those words are inadequate but unfortunately there are no others. Because of you, I can’t wait to see how the story unfolds.
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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