AN EMERITUS QUESTION

“Please don’t grow up to be one of those men who lie for the sport of it, and most men do. That’s a fact. That’s why the world is so messed up, Noah. That’s why history books are full of so much heartache, and tragedy. Politicians, dictators, kings, phoney-baloney preachers-most of ’em are men, and most of ’em lie like rugs”
Carl Hiaasen, Flush

“Remember the key to life,” Serge shouted over the engine. “Always act like you deserve to be here.”
Tim Dorsey, Hurricane Punch

Today marks a milestone of sorts for Metro Nashville Public Schools. It’s the half-way point of the first quarter of the school year, a school year that has been conducted completely virtual. We shouldn’t let that go unrecognized. Something that was completely unimaginable a year ago is now in the history books. We can argue about results and outcomes, but we can’t argue about the magnitude.

Over the past week, I’ve listened to the arguments, pro, and con, about the course being charted by Director of Schools Adrienne Battle and her team. School board member Fran Bush and several hundred parents held a rally at Bransford Avenue early in the week to demand that schools reopen and afterschool activities, including sports and band, resume.

There was an immediate response by teachers, and others, expressing resistance to returning to face to face instruction too soon. While acknowledging the importance of kids being in school, they argued that the data did not support a resumption of classes at this juncture.

Both sides make very compelling arguments, but I feel the need to point a few things out. . COVID numbers, while down and declining, are still substantial. Those who think that opening schools again is just a matter of unlocking the doors, handing out some PPE, wiping down surfaces, and welcoming kids, suffer from false illusions. The same holds true for those that think October 2020’s classroom is going to resemble the classrooms of 2019. That ain’t going to happen. That time, along with many of its practices is gone, and no matter how much we try to hold on to that illusion it won’t return.

When kids return to class, teachers will still be using the Florida Virtual School curriculum. New protocols will require substantial changes to car lines, cafeterias, physical education classes, transportation, and hallway management. Kids may see their classmates more in person, but interactions are still going to be limited. And yes other schools in surrounding districts are currently navigating these challenges, but the jury is still out on how successfully they are doing it.

Many have pointed to data that shows young children are less susceptible to COVID and that when they do contract it, symptoms are less severe. That data supports the reopening of schools unless of course, it’s your kid that comes down with the virus. Then the rules change.

There is also mounting evidence that those who contract the virus suffer lingering heart problems. Current data is admittedly inconclusive on this point, but there is enough evidence to warrant concern. I try to picture how I would handle a situation where I argued for the opening of schools by dismissing the data, only to have my son come down with COVID, and the virus leaves him with lingering health complications that negatively impacted his ability to pursue his athletic dreams in the future. Would I just look at him and say, “Wow bud. Guess I was wrong, huh? My bad.”

Now in what may appear to some to be a monumental display of hypocrisy, I do think that the plans developed by the city’s athletic coaches to permit students to return to the fields of competition are solid and well thought out. For many, the argument for resuming sports and other extracurricular activities is centered around potential scholarships. While that’s certainly a major component, there are many other equally important considerations.

The window for an athlete to compete at a high level is limited. For some, the opening is greater than others, but an injury, time off, or a plethora of other issues can impact the level of participation they are capable of in the near future. Furthermore, many of the students in question have engaged in these activities since a very young age and the sacrifices made shouldn’t be undervalued. It also needs to be recognized that for some students these so-called extracurricular activities are all that hold them to a school. Take them away and you risk taking away the only reason they attend school. maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s reality.

The decision is not an easy one and before making it, we should be sure that those impacted are heard. Like all aspects of the current educational strategy it all presents difficult challenges. I wish there was a path of least resistance.

As we analyze our current strategy, I think it’s important to remember that whenever we are in the midst of a huge life change, we tend to downplay the parts of our previous situation that were less than optimal. I keep hearing complaints against virtual schooling framed in a manner that would indicate there have been no problems with how schools operated in the past. Apparently, everybody involved attended schools where all classes start on time, there were never interruptions, all children felt welcome at all times, every teacher was an excellent teacher who assigned just the right amount of work, students were engaged from start to finish, and all interactions between students were positive. If we are honest with ourselves, many of the issues we face with virtual schooling are the same ones we faced during in-person schooling.

The major difference between the two is that one gives parents a place to send their kids during the day so they can work, the other puts the onus on parents. That presents a huge issue for parents and one that requires that solutions be identified quickly. I continue to hope that activists and non-profit groups will tap businesses to secure funding that will allow for the development of learning pods and micro-schools in impoverished neighborhoods effectively mimicking the supports that wealthier students are now receiving. Even if schools return to predominately face to face instruction those pods and learning centers could be essential supplements to an overtaxed school system.

These are hard days and we need to acknowledge that. But with great challenges come great opportunities and we need to recognize that as well. I certainly have concerns about how Dr. Battle and her team have led the district through these unprecedented circumstances. I would argue that there has been too little structure and too much control. Too many schools are doing as they please with little concern for how their activities impact the district as a whole. District communications keep putting Dr. Battle in a box by creating artificial deadlines that raise people’s expectations, only to disappoint.

With all that said, credit needs to be given to Dr. Battle for keeping control of the manner in which schools operate and keeping us on a consistent path that recognizes the work and commitment of district educators. Early on in the crisis, Mayor Cooper gave indications that he was going to have a more active role in dictating how schools operate. A superintendent of comparable experience to Dr. Battle might have either bristled at that or acquiesced. Battle did neither, she just focused on her job of leading the school system. At this point, the Mayor has accepted her leadership and assumed a support role. That’s big as it maintains a consistent chain of command congruent to that laid out in the city charter. Kudos go to Mayor Cooper as well.

Many districts have repeatedly altered their strategies throughout these past weeks. This has subjected families to continual whiplash in order to adjust. MNPS families in contrast have been able to settle into more of a routine, It may not be the routine they want, but I find it preferable to the alternative.

I hope the city’s educators and families take the opportunity this Labor Day to not only recharge their batteries but to reflect. To reflect on the miracle that they’ve played a role in creating over the last several weeks. It may not always be pretty, but it is impressive.

MORE SCHWINNIGANS

Mid-week Natshille’s Fox 17 aired a report on the dichotomy of Commissioner Schwinn pushing Tennessee schools to open in person while the California charter school she founded and still helps lead, is opening all virtual. As part of the story, the station aired a statement from the Tennessee Department of Education that reads as follows,

“Commissioner Schwinn was the founder of Capitol Collegiate Academy, from a part of the city where she grew up. The school was founded in 2009 with the mission of providing children from low-income communities with college-preparatory opportunities and pathways and had its first year of operation in 2011.

Capitol Collegiate Academy operates in alignment with the authorizing school district, Sacramento City Unified, and started the year learning remotely.

As the founder, Commissioner Schwinn is automatically emeritus on the board, which is on her public disclosures. There is no overlap with her work in Tennessee.”

Hmmm…ok. I immediately looked up the word “emeritus”. Per Wikipedia,

Emeritus (/əˈmɛrɪtəs/; female: Emerita),[Note 1] in its current usage, is an adjective used to designate a retired chairperson, professor, pastor, bishop, pope, director, president, prime minister, rabbi, emperor, or other person who has been “permitted to retain as an honorary title the rank of the last office held”.

The definition raises several incongruities. Normally a board member who has the “emeritus” title bestowed upon them does not hold office, nor vote, Looking at the minutes from Capitol Collegiate Academy it becomes readily apparent that Schwinn has engaged in both activities while holding down out of state jobs. And yes, the Paul Schwinn mention in that agenda is Mr. Penny Schwinn. As a side note, when it comes to Mr. Schwinn are you noticing a pattern yet?

I would say that it’s safe to say the word “emeritus” does not describe the role Ms. Schwinn plays at CCA. But here’s the question, what role does Ms. Schwinn play at the school. That’s something that seems to be clouded in mystery.

The TNDOE refers to her as being an emeritus board member, even though her financial disclosure with the state has her listed as a board member. CCA’s 990’s have her listed as Executive Director for the years 2016, 2017, 2018. But here is a new wrinkle, school audits filed with the State of California in 2018 show her as an operations consultant, as do those filed in 2016 and 2017, and she is listed as a board member whose term ends in 2022 on later audits. The emeritus designation does not normally come with a term limit. Ay Karumba, this is confusing.

I understand that CCA is a very small charter school, around 400 students, and keeping up with paperwork is difficult. So I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt, but then there is the matter of compensation and keeping the promises made during the application process.

In their renewal application in 2015, among the promises made was that the school would hire an Executive Director. The cover sheet of their Local Educational Agency Plan for the years July 1, 2016 – June 30, 2021, had Ana Gutierrez-Dooley serving in that role.  In this light, I’m not sure why Dooley is not listed on the 990 for the next couple of years, and Schwinn is, but whatever the case, after 2018, no one is listed as Executive Director. Audits filed with the California Department of Education after 2018 show only school principal Cristin Fiorelli as an administrator. That doesn’t appear to be in alignment with what CCA promised in their renewal application.

Being an “operations consultant” helps explain why Schwinn was the only board member that received compensation from the school. The 990 from 2016 shows her receiving roughly $100k in compensation. But when I look at the expenses listed in the 2016 audit, I’m unable to clearly identify what pool of money that expense came from.

Also, there seems to be an abnormal amount of travel expenses, $78,744, for a school that at the time enrolled a little over 300 students and roughly had 35 employees. From January till May of 2016 Schwinn was employed, so the family may have been residing back in Sacramento, and so the travel expenses shouldn’t necessarily be attributed to her. But they do raise questions.

Here’s another key piece of information that in my opinion can’t be overlooked, CCA receives nearly all of its monies from the state of California. In 2016 less than $10k was derived from charitable resources or other sources of income. That means that any compensation Schwinn received was from California taxpayers at the same time Texas taxpayers were paying her to do another job. The same holds true for 2017 and 2018. Maybe that’s important, maybe it’s not. Maybe you care, maybe you don’t. But I think it’s important to note.

Schwinn spent the past 2 days in Memphis alternately between begging Representative Mark White to keep carrying her water and taking advantage of photo ops with school children in Germantown Elementary Schools. Since White is in the midst of an election, I wonder if this could have been considered a campaign event. It’s not like this would be the first time Schwinn has done so.

While she was in Memphis, it would have been nice if she had visited any of the schools in the Achievement School District. You know the ones run by the state. The ones that are considered in the bottom 5% of schools in Tennessee.

According to there continuous learning plan(ASDFinalCLP8-4), only 38% of those students have access to high-speed internet. Her time in Memphis could have been well-spent checking-in and seeing how the ASD was addressing that, and other student needs, at a time when – according to the TNDOE website – students were attending school through a hybrid model. In reality, some schools are adhering to a hybrid model but the vast majority are currently in an all-virtual mode.

ASD schools are among the most challenged schools in the state and one would think that a commissioner who is as committed to the “whole child” as Schwinn, would want to swing by and make sure student needs were getting met. Word is coming out of Memphis, that while the ASD is getting as many students’ laptops as possible, there is a desperate need for more. That’s probably something the commissioner should have taken an opportunity to inventory first hand. As Chair of the House Education Committee Mark White would have also benefited by joining her in a hands-on assessment of the situation.

The pictures would have been just as heartwrenching and she might have been able to add some substance to her style. But then again why waste time visiting a high needs school when you can better spend the time talking with the Shelby County Republican Women of Purpose. I wonder if she regaled them with tales from her time as an intern with Diane Feinstein or told them about the time she pretended to be out of town in order to avoid being seen with Betsy DeVos.

As far as  White goes, he seems to have as much desire to address the needs of the states neediest students as he does to getting to the truth in regard to Schwinn. Perhaps he’s employing the same strategy for both, put on a brave face and hope that nobody looks behind the curtain. Eventually, maybe they’ll both go away.

QUICK HITS

On Tuesday there is an MNPS School Board meeting. There are two big areas being covered. The first will be the election of officers for next year. The second is the Revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and MNEA. The revisions include an increased right to appeal a write-up, an expanding of the time frame in which individual FAC’s can be formed, and expanded health protections for teachers in regard to COVID. All good stuff.

A little bit of exciting news for you. Artwork by Madison Eddins, a senior in the visual arts conservatory at Nashville School of the Arts within the MNPS school district, was chosen to represent Tennessee in the national Building the Movement: America’s Youth Celebrate 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage art exhibit. The exhibit is presented by the Office of the White House Curator in partnership with the Office of the First Lady, with support from the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission.

Madison’s painting, titled “Three Extraordinary Leaders of the Suffragist Movement,” depicts Ida B. Wells, Sue Shelton White, and J. Frankie Pierce, who were integral figures in women’s suffrage and also fought for civil rights and education for minorities.
The exhibit depicts a single piece of art from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each piece was chosen during an art contest held in June 2020. All of the artwork in the exhibit can be viewed online at www.womensvote100.org/buildingthemovement . Pretty dang cool.
Throwing this out there. Do you know anyone struggling to work from home AND help their child navigate online learning? Help is on the way! Learning Lab and Third Coast Clay are partnering to provide online learning assistance M-Th from 8-3 in this beautiful space in Cool Springs! For additional information, call 615.377.2929 or visit www.mylearnlab.com
While putting together this blog post, thoughts were continually interrupted by sounds of engagement from the boy’s classroom i.e his bedroom. Evidence of his continual increased engrossment in his classes. I know things are difficult all over, and it’s not always easy here either, but things are definitely improving. It’s the little victories I find joy in.
A recall effort has been launched against District 8 school board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Constituents are upset over two main issues, her position on the return to in-person instruction and they say she has a conflict of interest that she should have disclosed when the school board considered a resolution to seek a moratorium on state standardized testing. The recall notice states,
“Setting aside the highly questionable policy of forcing a failed standardized test on students and teachers in the middle of public-health and economic crises, we believe Ms. Pupo-Walker – through her lack of disclosure – violated school board policy 1.106 and undermined the public’s trust,”
Pupo-Walker offers the following defense,
“My position is that my work and my day job is 100 percent aligned to my values and what I think is best for MNPS children. I’m very clear on that. I’m happy to be more transparent about that, but it’s not a conflict in a technical sense. We don’t get any money from the district. But, I think you could name a lot of different board members who work in advocacy for education, and you could make a case that any of them are going to take a position that is aligned to what they do for a living.”

While I am not unsympathetic to Ms. Pupo-Walker, all of this could have been avoided with a simple recusal. The idea that there is no conflict of interest here is laughable. Her constituents have repeatedly voiced an aversion to standardized testing while her employer has repeatedly taken a supportive position. Yes, Education Trust makes no direct money from the issue, but as director, John King is paid over a half-million dollars a year in order to ensure that the organization’s recommendations become policy. Hence he hires people that can help facilitate that initiative. There in lies the conflict.That’s it for now.

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.  Any bit you can do to help would be greatly appreciated. Now more than ever your support is essential. So I’m shamelessly rattling my virtual tin cup.

If you so desire to join the rank of donors, you can still head over to Patreon and help a brother out. I also have a paypal account, thomaswebber1. 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.  Not begging, just saying.

 



Categories: Education

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