“The radio was on and that was the first time I heard that song, the one I hate. Whenever I hear it all I can think of is that very day riding in the front seat with Lucy leaning against me and the smell of Juicy Fruit making me want to throw up. How can a song do that? Be like a net that catches a whole entire day, even a day whose guts you hate? You hear it and all of a sudden everything comes hanging back in front of you, all tangled up in that music.”
“Believe me, the library is the temple of God. Education is the most sacred religion of all.”
Like most Nashville residents, I have been closely following the news about schools. Yesterday, Dr. Battle and MNPS released an email and a corresponding press release about the next steps for MNPS. Included in the communication was a schedule for the return to face-to-face instruction. What wasn’t mentioned in the release was an actual plan.
Just to be sure I wasn’t missing anything, I Googled plan, in order to secure a definition. Merriam-Webster defines a plan as follows:
2a: a method for achieving an endb: an often customary method of doing something : PROCEDUREc: a detailed formulation of a program of action
It appears that MNPS is adhering to D while ignoring A, B, and C. Throughout the recent process of beginning the transition in delivery of instruction, I’ve seen ample evidence of goals and aims – return kids to schools, provide quality education, keep everyone safe. What I haven’t seen are any concrete action steps that demonstrate how the district plans to meet those goals. In fact, the word plan is not even mentioned in yesterday’s communication, save at the very end where parent plans are referenced.
Little is offered around the means that we are going to utilize in order to bring the schedule to fruition, let along the factors that influence its advancement. The only action step provided is for community members:
“After a great deal of consultation with Board members and other stakeholders, I believe this phase-in schedule can result in a safe and thoughtful return to school for students,” Dr. Battle said. “In order to make this happen, we need all community members to do their part to stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and social distancing whenever possible.”
No… in order for this goal to be successful, we need a whole lot more action other than “wearing masks and social distancing.”
Instead of the district providing any kind of structure to facilitate the schedule, decisions and planning are being left to individual school administrations. Notice I said administrators and not teachers? That is because very little consultation is going on with those who will be charged with executing the actions needed in order to turn the proposed schedule into reality.
Nobody has recently surveyed teachers about their preference between teaching in person or remotely. Nobody has run ideas like, “Elementary recess without masks but social distance” by them in order to gain an understanding of feasibility. Nobody has explained how the substitute situation will work should a teacher be forced to quarantine. Nobody has advised them if they, like families, will also be given an opportunity to change their preference for the second semester.
Education is supposed to be about learning, growing, and improving, yet we never seem to do that. Preferring instead to cling to past practice whether it was successful or not. The new semi-plan seems to be unfolding independently of anything that happened 6 weeks ago. MNPS appears to be doing things exactly the same way with the introduction of face-to-face as it did with remote learning – announce the goals and let teachers fill in the blanks, But it’s not just that, we want teachers to fill in the blanks in a way that meets certain criteria unbeknownst to them. Criteria that is only discovered through repeated trial and error. Raise your hand if you think that the roll-out of remote learning was a successful operation for the district. Exactly.
We spent the first 3 weeks of remote learning focusing on the importance of social-emotional learning, engaging in no formal subject matter instruction. We focused solely on building relationships and addressing the mental and emotional states of children. Despite the overwhelming challenges, students and teachers have, as a result, forged emotional bonds. Now 8 weeks later, we are ready to blow up those important bonds.
Unspoken, but widely recognized, is the fact that most students in the district will not retain the same teachers. Because of a lack of a plan, students will be forced to reconstruct connections with a new teacher at a time when I doubt many of them are in a better social-emotional state than they were 8 weeks ago. For some, virtual school has been incredibly difficult, and as a result, I have no doubt that anxiety levels are at a state even higher than when the school year began. The only thing that enabled them to cope with the difficult process has been their teachers. Now we are going to pull that prop out from under them and make them adjust again, with little support. It all seems contrary to what was preached in late July and August.
We frequently talk about SEL for students, yet we continually fail to apply the same level of concern to teachers. It’s readily acknowledged that teachers are working hard, but I don’t think many have a clear sense of what that means. The demands we are making of teachers have the potential to negatively impact marriages and family relationships. We are well versed in the challenges of a single parent, while we take marriage as some kind of gimme state. Those who have had long term marriages will tell you they take a lot of work. Work that can’t be done when a teacher is continually on the phone collaborating with peers or glued to a computer screen doing the tedious work of uploading lesson plans, grading student work, answering emails, teaching, and the multiple other tasks that go into setting students up for success.
We constantly talk about the importance of parental involvement with children. Many teachers are also parents. How are they supposed to remain involved in their own children’s lives while meeting all the demands placed on them by district leadership?
The scary thing is that in talking with teachers, many will voice the opinion that the severity of the challenge is at a higher degree this year, but the circumstances are the same as every year. For the last several years, whether it’s been Common Core, a hastily constructed Scope and Sequence, a new initiative, or something else, the beginning of the year consistently has been fraught with chaos. Teachers are forced to meet the challenges laid out by administrators without supports. Hence the ever-increasing attrition rates.
Recent years have seen the district release so-called literacy plans and a plan to change grading practices. Both over-reliant on lofty goals and ambitions, but unsupported by actual action steps. In other words, the focus is always on “what’ but seldom on “how.”
I’d like to say that the ignoring of teacher needs is being offset by heightened concern for parents, but that wouldn’t be true either.
While I appreciate Dr. Battle granting parents additional time to decide whether their children will attend school remotely or in person, and clarifying that parents will have an opportunity to make a change for next semester in December, parents are still being forced into making a decision with a distinct lack of information. Decisions are being forced without even a clear definition of what metrics are being used in opening schools.
My first concern is that with the time frame now laid out, how does the district maintain fidelity in regards to the level of remote instruction delivered? If you are someone struggling with remote learning, either teacher or parent, and knowing that come the end of October you will be transitioning to in-person learning, where is the impetus to remain fully engaged? In light of district leadership to ensure full participation in the most basic of elements – Florida Virtual School and Schoology – why should I believe that remote instruction will remain viable? Why would people not just throw in the towel and say, “I’m going in-person in a month and I’ll get a new teacher then, so why continue with this difficult process?”
Do parents signing up for a return to school understand the protocol for students exhibiting any of the symptoms related to COVID? You see, the Health Department has a plan and they’ve outlined it with a flow chart. it lists very specific ailments and puts them in the category of high-level or low-level, and then describes a list of actions that will be required for a student to return in the event they exhibit any of those symptoms. It’s clear and concise and provides parental awareness that even though they want their student to have f2f instruction, they could quite possibly be back out almost immediately for 14 days. They can decide if their schedule can adapt to that potential.
What I don’t see is how the district will handle instruction for a student forced into quarantine. Will they join an existing class? Will all their work become asynchronous? Or will they just have no instruction? All of that needs clarity.
For that matter, what will asynchronous instruction look like going forward? How will it be aligned between virtual students and those in a live setting? What’s to prevent teachers in a live setting from using the asynchronous time to provide actual instruction? How is that equitable to students in a remote setting?
How many parents out there know that MAP testing is scheduled to be administered again starting the first weeks of November? So middle school students will begin the transition back at the same time they will take MAP assessments. Here’s a question, since some will be taking MAP in person and some will be taking it remotely, how will it be administered with any fidelity? Once again, we will be creating a permanent record for kids that is not rooted in authenticity.
In the wake of all this, two distinct camps have opened up – those who want kids to return to school sooner rather than later, and those who maintain that conditions still remain unsafe. In typical fashion, instead of holding discussions on the validity of both camps’ views and forming plans that take into account the needs of both, we have engaged in the act of vilifying opponents. Here’s a news flash: those who want students to return are not actively trying to kill teachers and students, and those who argue for a delayed return are not lazy sods who don’t want to work. If we could dispense with the straw man arguments, perhaps we could develop an actual plan.
I understand that all of this is difficult, and that there is no precedent. But it is past time to dispense with those tenets and quit using them as an excuse for a lack of adequate planning.
D-Day was difficult as well. An operation of that magnitude was unprecedented. That didn’t stop leadership from putting together a comprehensive plan. They didn’t just say, “We want to liberate Western Europe from Nazi control, so we are going to attack on this date. Now I need every platoon to come up with their own plan on how we are going to to this. It is encouraged that you wear uniforms while engaged in this plan, but not necessary. We’d like you to communicate your actions through this channel, but we understand if you have one that works better for you. See you in Western Europe.” But that is in essence what MNPS is doing.
As circumstances exist, I find it very difficult to predict a successful outcome. Sure, there will be success stories. Based on individual school leaders, some students will benefit more than others. There are those who will argue that this is no different than it has ever been. In response, I offer the following challenge, as a public education advocate, are you fighting for a system of schools or the preservation of how individual schools do business? There is a big distinction between the two. Myself, I maintain allegiance to a public school system with equitable outcomes available to all.
So two weeks ago, MNPS board member Gini Pupo-Walker was presented with a notice of intent to recall by a group of District 8 constituents. Among the reasons given for the action were that they felt her employment as Director for the regional office of Education Trust presented a conflict of interest. Those unfamiliar with Education Trust should know that it is a national advocacy group that works to get its policy recommendations enacted by both schools districts and legislative bodies. At the last school board meeting, Christiane Buggs and Rachael Elrod were elected board chair and vice-chair respectively. Despite widespread speculation, Pupo-Walker did not contend for the board chair position and was instead appointed as the board’s legislative liaison, a position that gives her unfettered access to state legislators. You know, the people who turn recommendations into policy and legislation. You just can’t make this stuff up.
In all fairness, as Ms. Pupo-Walker pointed out in the Lookout article, “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.” A case in point presumably would be Ms. Buggs. Per her Educator Co-Op board member bio page, she currently serves as the Project Manager for the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success, a city-wide initiative focused on increasing literacy in our youngest learners managed by the United Way. She serves in this role despite being a former middle school math teacher. Conflict? I don’t know, but does anybody care? That I don’t know either.
Occasionally I find myself in a position of criticizing someone I respect immensely. Ricky Gibbs is an incredible leader and serves his schools in an exemplary fashion. This week he released a very professional looking video showcasing the work of his teachers.
It’s a beautiful video and very inspirational but raises several questions for me. The first being, at a time when no educator in Nashville has a second to spare, how does he find the time to film a promotional video? Secondly, while what his teachers are doing is beyond admirable, what is it they are doing that is not being done at every other school in the district. If I am a parent who doesn’t know better, or has a larger more diverse population, I may be inclined to think that my school is failing where Dr. Gibbs is succeeding. I would take exception to that and question what is being promoted here.
Perhaps the district would be well advised to follow Dr. Gibb’s lead and create a series of videos that highlight not just an individual school but rather all schools. You know, that system of schools vs a school system thing? If Dr. Gibbs, who is in the thick of the trenches, can find the time and resources, surely those at Central Office are capable of the same.
Here’s some good news worthy of celebration. 19 Metro Nashville Public Schools seniors have been named semifinalists in the 66th annual National Merit Scholarship Program, a prestigious honor awarded to the top 1 percent of the nation’s high school seniors. The National Merit Scholarships, which will be awarded in the spring, are worth more than $30 million.
The MNPS semifinalists are:
Hillsboro High School: Sophie Tidwell
Hillwood High School: Andrew Spencer
Hume-Fogg Magnet High School: Javokhir Arifov, Leo Chang, Anna Chen, Oscar Field, Trent Jones, Iris May-Fleming, Grant Oxford, Garrett Scott, and Erika Wisby
Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School: James Craddock, Sophia Hackett, Joshua Halevi, Joseph Hallum, Parwan Ahmed Machingal, Vishnu Pratap, Nancy Tennent, and Jacob Williams
P.S. If your intent is to use this announcement to grind your own personal ax against Magnet Schools, now is not the time or place. Today we celebrate student success.
McKinsey and Company, an organization that I know virtually nothing about, has recently released its recommendations on the future of education. Recommendations that have caught the ear of many education policy advocates. I’m still processing, but there is much in their report that bears consideration.
Since the inception of the pandemic, I’ve been calling attention to the possibilities being presented to address long term issues in public education. While many decried the creation of pods and learning centers as escape hatches for the wealthy, I argued that those same benefits could be secured for those children with less economic advantages. The Indianapolis School District is slowly proving me right. They have undertaken the “Herculean task” of making learning pods available to all students. At present, their efforts are still a work in progress, but they show promise and a means to keep students under the ISP banner. And yes. I know that the Mind Trust is a dastardly outfit, but in this case, they may be facilitating good.
If you are looking for a good time? Why not make plans to attend the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute’s Virtual Summit on Education? It takes place Thursday and Governor Bill Lee will be speaking along with Ms. Barbara Holzapfel, General Manager for Microsoft Education. Commissioner Schwinn isn’t on the agenda, but I’m sure she’ll be lurking close at hand since she’s the Governor’s favorite child. Maybe he’ll use the opportunity to tout the ways she’s whipped the General Assembly into shape, spurred growth in the legal economy, revolutionized Human Resources, recruited top talent, and effectively guided the Achievement School District.
Poll results this week will be admittedly skimpy despite increased participation – no write-in vote results – because the free version of my polling service in winding down and I’m in the process of securing funding to transition to the paid tier. I apologize and hopefully things will be rectified soon.
Here are the results I can share. The first question asked, for your take on the “Navigator” role being employed by MNPS. Out of 143 responses, 41% of you thought the role was vital but not one that should be filled by teachers. 27% of you felt it was a waste of resources. Only 6% of you thought it was an essential role that should be filled by teachers.
Question number 2 asked if you planned to continue virtually or switch to in-person instruction. Out of 125 responses, 52% indicated they would prefer to remain in a virtual setting, while 35% indicated they would return to f2f. I must say the results were a little surprising.
The last question asked if you regularly utilize the TNDOE created materials aired on PBS. Out of 131 respondents, 36% asked, “who’s got time to watch TV?” and 31% indicated that you didn’t even know it was on. One person said they watch it every day, and four sporadically. Maybe at this week’s legislative work sessions someone could raise the question of why this is continued to be funded by the state despite low participation rates.
That’s it for now.
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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