THE PRIDE OF OVERTON CLUSTER

“What we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see.”
Jean Piaget

 

It was a deep hit ball to the outfield. As the ball traveled towards the wall, the outfielder moved towards it. Tracking its movements with his own. At the perfect moment, he lept high, glove meeting ball at its apex. Robbed! What was a sure home run, was suddenly just a long out.

The outfielder might have been cool in his reaction, but in a living room, in Nashville, a 10-year old boy lept from the couch screaming, “MMMMOOOOOOOOKKKIIIEEE!!!!”

The outfielder in question was Dodger outfielder Mookie Betts. The 2018 National League MVP selection. The game was game 7 of the National League Championship. It was the fifth inning and at the time Bett’s team, the Dodgers, were trailing by a run. Seeing as the Dodger’s only won by one run, some might say they wouldn’t be going to the World Series without that catch. Keep in mind that’s an 8-foot fence and Betts is only 5’9.

The rest of the country might have thought what they were seeing was something out of the ordinary, but here in South Nashville we’d tell them, “Nah, that’s just Mookie.”

Bett’s you see is the proud product of Overton High School. That’s right, public school Overton High School. Not BGA, or MBA, or and of the other private schools that regularly snap up all the exceptional athletic talent the city has to offer. For whatever reason, Betts and his family chose to lend his skills to a local school that ranks among the most diverse in the country.  A community that has held him close to their bosom through it all.

In the past it was common to have ball players graduate from local fields to the big leagues. Proof that a boys dreams could come true, the road having been paved prior by his idols. Betts is a throw back to those days. He was a central figure in the city’s youth sports scene while growing up. Playing in gyms and sandlots all across the city. But always calling South Nashville home. There are no shortage of Mookie stories among those who regularly follow student athletics

“Did I tell you about the time?”

“Man you should have seen…”

Can be heard as regular refrains whenever affeciados gather to swap tales. A few weekends ago my 10-year old and I were at a garage sale early on a Saturday morning. Since we were headed to a practice Peter had his baseball stuff on,

“Who’s your favorite player?”, the man holding the sale asked.

“Mookie Betts”, was the quick answer.

“You know I coached him back when he played in middle school”, the man offered.

“Was he good then?”

“He was. He had something even then that you can’t coach – speed.”

The other thing that Mookie Betts has always had in abundance is charisma and class. People tell stories about his athletic prowess, but they also tell stories about what a great guy he is. Stories about him picking up the groceries for a family are told with the same frequency as those about times he hit for the cycle. Seems like almost everybody who has spent any amount of time in south Nashville has gone golfing or bowling with him. Word is that there may be a spot reserved for him upon retirement from the MLB with the Pro Bowlers Tour. He is that good.

At a time when the luster of pro athletes have faded, and as a father, it’s inspiring to watch my son play on the ball fields where Betts once ruled – with dreams of following in the footsteps of his idol. And not just to the major leagues, but to one day take the field as an Overton High School Bobcat. It doesn’t hurt that I know chasing his baseball dreams, will also provide him the opportunity to achieve a world-class education. Because that’s what Overton does all day, every day.

Thank you, Mookie Betts, for not only thrilling us on the diamond but reminding us as well, that great things can be achieved without exploring private or charter school options. That our public schools, despite all the challenges, still help shape outstanding individuals every day.

TESTING BLUES

By this time it should be abundantly clear that Governor Lee and his sycophant, Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn, have embarked on a publicity tour to win people’s hearts. Ah…that kooky but lovable commissioner. Kind of a modern-day Mary Tyler Moore.

The latest salvo in the campaign came Friday when the two announced jointly that they thought that there should be a temporary suspension of accountability measures for the 2020 – 2021 school year. Their announcement was instantly met with accolades from across the state as if two leopards had walked into a room and suddenly changed their spots.

First off, this is just another example of the dynamic duo running an end-around on the General Assembly. What to do about testing this year has been a frequent topic of conversation amongst legislators on both sides of the aisle. The majority has concluded that testing is a fool’s errand at this juncture, and they were already preparing legislation to suspend accountability measures.

The Governor and Schwinn’s announcement allows them to step in and take credit for the initiative, instead of the people who were already listening and responding to the citizens of Tennessee.

Secondly, what’s really getting canceled?

Teacher evaluations? Still need to be completed.

Pre-k and kindergarten portfolios? Still need to be completed.

TNReady testing? Still being administered.

So nothing is really changing. As long as the test is administered, a permanent record is being created. As long as the people currently in charge remain in charge, that record will be used to the detriment of Tennessee’s teachers and students. Like Mya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them, the first time.”

About 5 years ago, I worked with then-MNPS Executive Director of EL Services Kevin Stacy to get accountability measures suspended for ELL students until after they’d been in the country for 3 years or demonstrated English language proficiency. The proposal mirrored initiatives in California, Florida, and Texas. The federal government at that time had gone so far as to allow for states to apply for a waiver for ELL students. The aforementioned states had applied for and been granted the waiver. Tennessee did not apply.

In a meeting with a representative from the TDOE, we asked why. The response was that those states thought it was all right to administer a test and just toss aside the results. The TDOE, and Governor Haslem, were of the mind that those assessments were paid for with taxpayer money, and as such, they didn’t feel that simply tossing the results aside was a prudent use of taxpayer money. Seeing as Governor Lee represents the same political party as his predecessor, color me skeptical about any real difference between the two’s philosophy.

If you think about it, the only people that really need the test, are Schwinn and the Gov. Parents aren’t out screaming for the state to administer a test in the Spring. Schools are busy doing their best to administer quality instruction under the most adverse of situations. Legislators seemly understand the challenges schools and parents are facing, and have suspended pushing an overt political agenda in favor of trying to deliver some relief to beleaguered educators.

The only ones clinging to their political agenda amidst these turbulent times are the dynamic duo.  Pre-pandemic they were determined to exert their will over that of legislators, teachers, and students by pushing a “Reading Bill” that no one was calling for and few wanted. Mid-pandemic, they are still clinging to that raft, as their lives depended on it.

Think about this for a second. Late last month Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee were sounding the alarm on the dire future of Tennessee’s school children due to school closures caused by COVID-19. According to the two, students could potentially be losing hundreds of days of learning due to 6 months of face-to-face instruction being suspended. Some funny math to begin with, but won’t the suspending of instruction to deliver assessments only result in even more days of lost learning?

So if you are not going to use the results anyways, cancel the damn thing. Not rocket science.

Unless of course, you have an ulterior motive – which it’s quite clear Tennessee’s Pinky and the Brain do – this is prime time to get friends paid and to set up future paydays. As pointed out by educator Thomas Ultican, a recent article in The 74  on the “COVID slide”, along with a report from the Hoover Institute’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), gives us a little insight into the game that is currently afoot,

Data released last week by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes at Stanford University provided a sobering estimate of the learning loss caused by school closures: Across 19 states, it ranged from a third of a year to a year in reading, and from three-fourths of a school year to 232 days in math. The report suggested frequent assessment going forward and said new approaches to teaching will be needed to ‘plot a recovery course.

In case you forgot, the TDOE has $40 million in federal dollars available to do just that. As I recently told you, the two grants of $20 million apiece provide an outline of those new approaches through a curriculum created by the DOE, and rooted in CKLA, to facilitate an overwhelming focus on “foundational skills” as a means to teach reading. The new approach does not propose to add tools to a teacher’s instructional tool but rather take out ones not favored by Ms. Schwinn.

Throughout the new two proposals are multiple references to intended consequences in order to justify the investment. The justifying of expenditures makes it important to create new “diagnostic tools” and mandate new requirements as evidenced by the following passage,

At the conclusion of the summer, fall, and spring sessions, providers will be required to submit to the TDOE their attendance/usage, student engagement records, student pre/post test scores. After the third session (spring) each year, the TDOE will send providers their data, including student pre- and post-test data, family satisfaction data from surveys administered monthly during each session, and attendance/engagement trends. Providers will be expected to utilize these data to reflect on and improve their program. In order to be renewed for the following year, providers must submit an action plan addressing any areas deemed underperforming. Approved and renewed providers will be asked to “opt-in” to participate in microgrants each year before the March open enrollment period.

Read the two grants(K-12 Education STabilization Grant)()Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grant_Grant Award Notification) and it becomes crystal clear that Lee and Schwinn are part of a consortium that serves its own agenda devoid of that favored by Tennessee residents. They may not meet down at the grotto, in robes, burning incense and candles while reciting ancient chants, but rest assured they are conspiring together and engaging in the age-old ritual of back-scratching at every turn.

While overtly test results produced by assessments held in the Spring may not be detrimental to schools and teachers, ultimately any data produced by those assessments will be utilized by the Governor and the Commissioner to further their agenda. An agenda that will ultimately include more assessments and less control by teachers and LEA’s.

When you read the press reports of the Commissioner and the Governors’s apparent change of heart, I would keep the words of Chuck D and Professor Griff close at hand, “Don’t believe the hype.”

COVID BLUES

Over the weekend conversation among Nashville teachers centered around the return to school and the increased outbreak of COVID cases at recently opened MNPS elementary schools. I continually received updates of schools were positive tests had transpired. It seemed none were immune.

Parents who at the beginning of the week were ecstatic that their kids had returned to in-school instruction, were at the other end of the spectrum by week’s end, as a result of their children suddenly, and quietly, being placed in quarantine due to exposure to a child or teacher who tested positive.

To make matters even more alarming, Saturday’s Daily News Journal carried the story of a Rutherford County teacher who recently passed away after contracting COVID-19. According to the article, Susan Keener was a healthy grandmother and educational assistant at Walter Hill Elementary, where she worked for 15 years. Keener contracted the virus a few weeks after a return to school and on August 25th was admitted to the hospital due to complications.

After 2 weeks, she wasn’t improving, so she was transferred to Vanderbilt and admitted to the COVID Unit. Once she finally negative she was transferred to the ICU. In ICU, Keener then began having circulation issues in her hands and feet, putting her at risk for amputation. According to her daughter, if her mother had lived, she would have still lost fingers and doctors would have needed to amputate her legs. Unfortunately, that was never an option, because she passed away last week.

The paper includes a disturbing quote from that daughter,

“I want people to know that unless you’re directly affected, I completely understand the sense that it’s just a bad flu. I had that same thought process until my healthy, 52-year-old mother contracted it and had such severe complications,” 

Let’s be clear here, at this stage, there is no excuse – whatever your political leanings are – to have a sense that the virus is just a “bad flu”. Furthermore, her mother didn’t just suffer severe consequences. She suffered the ultimate severe consequence, she died. For what? Because children would have been irreparably harmed had they missed another month or two of in-person instruction? We know better than that.

Ms. Kenner’s daughter goes on to evoke the “can’t live in fear” meme. But let me share this with you.

A gentleman I worked with last night was telling me about his raising of his three boys. Said he made sure they understand that we are all going to die – either from something we chose or something that chooses for us. He wasn’t afraid of the first, and there were several things he was willing to die for. It was the second that he was more concerned about.

There was no reason for that Rutherford teacher to die, and there is no reason to continually put Nashville’s teachers at risk either. A combination of size and underfunding has made it impossible to ensure that we can protect teachers and students as we force students back into the classroom.

It is entirely possible to provide quality instruction to students remotely, while strictly regulating the numbers of kids in the building. After January, circumstances may change and it may be possible to return students to schools, but we are not there yet. If we insist on forcing schools to open prematurely, it’s only fair to ask district leaders, what are you asking teachers to potentially die for? I sure hope it’s a worthy answer.

QUICK HITS

If you believe Nate Rau in the Tennessee Lookout, Nashville Mayor Cooper plans to focus on teacher pay increases in year two of his administration. On one hand, this feels like another counter to the pending referendum on Nashville’s property tax increase, but in all fairness, Cooper was working very diligently with the Nashville Public Education Foundation on teacher salaries before the current pandemic. Keeping fingers crossed on this one.

Tennessean education writer Meghan Mangrum is still looking for Nashville teachers who are considered “high” or at an increased risk if they contract COVID-19 and/or have requested accommodations from MNPS. You can DM her via Twitter or email mmangrum@tennessean.com. 

The Rose Park Middle Journalism Club toured the Belmont University Presidential Debate grounds this week and had a wonderful experience seeing behind the scenes of history in the making.  The final debate is on Oct. 22.

Have I mentioned that voting for Bob Freeman is a good idea? If I haven’t, let me do it now.

If you see Overton Cluster’s hyper advocate Doderick Smith today, wish him a happy birthday! The man works tirelessly without compensation for students in the Overton Cluster.

POLL RESULTS

It’s now time to turn our attention to this past weekend’s poll questions. The first question asked about your level of concern regarding the $40 million in federal funds the TDOE had recently received. 37% of you thought it was about time for the comptroller to get involved, while 32% expressed grave concerns, None of you thought they had the best interests of kids at heart. Here are the write-ins,

  • So tired of people making money off public education!
  • OMG folks treat this money like toilet tissue

Question two asked whether now was an appropriate time for teacher evaluations. 81% of you said absolutely not. Two people said they saw no issue with doing evaluations at this juncture. Thank you, Governor Lee and Ms. Schwinn for your participation. Here are the write-ins,

  • No! How do you evaluate all the untrained folks working on Permits or as Subs.
  • only through the process of informal feedback
  • Should be evaluated on what we can and are doing never test scores

The last question asked if you thought every school board meeting agenda should include a director’s report. Your overwhelming answer at 73% was now more than ever. 11% thought only if there were new developments. Personally, I think it’s inexcusable to not include a director’s report amidst a pandemic. Here are the write-in votes,

  • Yes! Plus explanation for why Board has plexiglass yet students don’t 🤬
  • Yes, with relevant information, rather than the usual fluff.
  • What else is the point of the board if not to administer their 1 direct employee
  • Why wouldn’t the director report to the Board??
  • Not necessarily

That’s it for today.

If you’ve got time and are 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 share 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 a little slow. Not begging, just saying.

Don’t forget, if you have student-written blog posts you’d like to see reach a wider audience…send them on. I’d love the opportunity to share them.



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Mookie Betts. Generally I detest pro sports. But, now I am a fan. Awesome.

    Re testing, I’ll ask again. If we don’t administer the test, how will we ever truly know the average incomes of the students at each school?

    More seriously… A once-a-year test would not hurt – but not when it takes more than half a day, not when private school students don’t take it, not when its testing against a standard used nowhere else in the world, not until skittish parents are made to understand that it is entirely normal for kids’ results to fluctuate up and down percentile-wise every year, and never if folks use the test results to hammer teachers giving their all to teach poor kids.

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