DOING THE RIGHT THING THE WRONG WAY

“The American political system has lost the ability for large-scale compromise, and it has lost the ability to accept some pain now for much gain later on.”
Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World

 

Last Friday, the Metro Nashville Public School Board held an emergency work session in order to revisit the district’s re-entry plan. Notice I refer to it as a re-entry plan and not a resumption of school plan? That’s intentional, and we’ll talk more about that in a bit.

After Fall Break, MNPS began phasing students back into schools starting with the youngest. Parents were given the option to send their kids virtual or in-person. The numbers were pretty evenly split with a slight nod to in-person.

Fifth and sixth graders were slated to return this week. But, as COVID-19 cases continue to climb and questions mount over the ability to keep teachers and students safe, it was time to re-visit the plan going forth.

Unfortunately, instead of taking charge and providing needed leadership, the board and Director Adrienne Battle once again demonstrated their ability to get it wrong even when they were getting it right. The ultimate decision to pause the re-entry plan is ultimately the right one, but the process to arrive at that conclusion could have been conducted better.

Over the last several years, from the school level to the district level, there has been an increased focus on starting every meeting with a listing of norms and expectations. This board meeting could have benefitted from such. Instead, it lurched and lumbered to a start that left many observers questioning its purpose. Even when it reached its intended consequences, the meeting ended with more questions than answers.

When serving as a leader, there is a time for gathering input and a time for action. Now is clearly a time for the latter and not the former. The time for gathering data and soliciting stakeholder input has long passed. Data should have been compiled and a clear picture of what’s happening in schools should have been delivered in a timely manner to board members before the gavel ever brought the meeting to order. Board members have should have done their homework and come prepared to offer recommendations.

In that spirit, the meeting should have opened with an explanation of what the expected outcomes were. It should have been made clear that no motions would be entertained due to a parliamentary procedure requiring a motion to either be placed on the agenda or an intent to bring motion announced in advance. Thus making it clear that the intent of the meeting was to arrive at a general recommendation for the director, and not a proclamation. Thus avoiding observer expectations that a resolution would be delivered via the board.

Once the expectation was established, as leader of the district, Dr. Battle should have then publicly reviewed the data provided to board members and outlined options she felt were viable based on the data. At that juncture, questions could have centered around actual potential strategies and impacts could have reviewed in order to lessen the negative ones and accentuate the positive.

Instead, what we got was a meandering conversation, that managed to overlook elementary schools, argue about the potential impact of infection on kids in the event they become infected, undervalue the remote instruction being delivered by teachers, and piss off parents that were adamant about children returning to in-person instruction. In other words by the end of the meeting, more people were more dissatisfied than they were at the beginning. In my eyes, that is not a positive, nor desired outcome.

What wasn’t discussed in necessary depth was, where support staff was supposed to come from in the event of required quarantines, data on available substitute teacher and steps to secure adequate numbers, what the impact on individual schools would be should a return be paused, a potential timeline for a resumption of a re-entry plan, or even if schools already in session has enough staff to ensure functionality.

Let me explain something to those that may not be aware, teachers are planners. They do not roll out of bed on a Monday and think to themselves, “What should we cover today? Maybe verbs would be good, or nouns maybe.” No, lessons are planned out well in advance. A great deal of time is invested in fleshing out those plans and ensuring they are ready for delivery at the appointed time. What that means is, while I believe pausing the re-entry plan is the right move, all the work that middle school teachers did last week was rendered moot.

Teachers had to completely revamp lesson plans to ensure adequate instruction for students in the coming week. They had to so with no idea how long the pause would last. With the holidays fast approaching, it probably makes sense to halt until after the first. But just because it makes sense does not mean that’s the path MNPS will pursue.

Students’ schedules were supposed to change this week. Some students would keep their same teachers, but most were switching. In order to facilitate serving both in-person and remote learning students, schools were poised to make massive changes to scheduling and class assignments. Now that is not happening.

As result principals were forced on late Friday to decide if come Tuesday they would proceed with the schedule changes planned or remain with the previous schedule. Setting student schedules is not a matter of just sending a student here, or setting them for there. One principal told me that for each student, 34 clicks are required. Thirty-four computer clicks per student. That gives you a good idea of what teachers were faced with this weekend.

The move on late Friday left parents scrambling as well. Work schedules are not set with only a day’s notice. Parents who had chosen in-person instruction had likely adjusted their time with the expectation of not having to secure child care. Bet it’s not hard to figure out how they spent their weekend.

Many teachers took umbrage to the scant acknowledgment that schools had been open for several months and that many students were thriving. Little time was spent during the school board meeting reviewing the successes of remote learning. Instead, the conversation was conducted in a manner that an uninformed listener wouldn’t be at fault in thinking that schools were not even open. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The reality is that many principals, students, and teachers are working their ass off to deliver as robust education to students as possible, and succeeding. Let’s say it again for those in the back that might have missed it…there are a lot of students, teachers, and principals that are kicking ass with remote instruction.

Not nearly enough time is being spent recognizing, celebrating, and attempting to replicate those instances. Instead, it’s a constant drumbeat of, “Remote learning doesn’t work. It’s a failure.”

Somehow we’ve lost sight of the fact that teaching is more than just a job. It’s an intrinsic part of a person. Spend any time around a successful teacher and you’ll quickly see that they don’t just “teach” during school hours, during the school year. It’s so ingrained that they are teaching when interacting with kids at a store, talking to family members, or while at church. It’s not something they turn on and off. They are educators at heart and as such, teaching is akin to breathing. Just give them the needed time and support.

The current circumstances are certainly not what they desire, nor what they are comfortable with, but don’t think for a minute that circumstances stop them from teaching. When I think of the many high-quality teachers I know, I’m confident that if I gave them a blanket, a fire, and some time to figure it out, they could teach via smoke signals. So never fall for the canard that we are failing students by not having schools open.

Yes, we are failing some students, but if you’ll look closely, I think you’ll discover that many of those students are the same ones we’ve been failing in our school buildings for years. Now is the time to figure out how we reach those kids. We need to stop assuming that if we fill buildings, everything will be rectified. Somehow we’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that mere entry to the establishment signifies success.

School not serving you well? Stay in our building, and don’t go into a charter school, because that’s their building.

Discipline problems? Keep them in the building, because somehow the mere occupying of the building will lead to success.

Can’t read? Get them in the building.

And now…pandemic raging…get them in the building. Nevermind that we can guarentee their safety or even deliver an experience that addresses their needs…get them in the building.

You know, if we spent as much time figuring out how to meet student needs as we do working on insuring they get in the building…we’d go a long way towards improving student outcomes.

I looked up the definition of public school this morning, a feat more difficult than you might think. Here is what I found,

a school that is maintained at public expense for the education of the children of a community or district and that constitutes a part of a system of free public education commonly including primary and secondary schools.

Nowhere in that definition does is say a building that is populated by the children of a community. I think James Shuls sums it up nicely when he says,

School districts are not public education; they are a delivery method. Public education is simply an idea, that everyone has a right to an education financed at public expense. How we deliver that education can vary.

We owe it to our kids to explore every delivery method in order to keep them safe and provide the most robust public education experience possible. If we focus on filling student’s minds, instead of district building we will better serve our children.

Shifting back to Friday’s school board meeting, Elementary school teachers and principals came away feeling especially short shifted. By pausing re-entry for middle school students due to safety conditions while leaving elementary school building open the message sent was one of a willingness to use the teachers of our youngest kids as guinea pigs. That didn’t sit well with many of those teachers, and rightfully so.

The board and director also failed to adequately consider and recognize the challenges currently being faced by elementary school. As staff is placed in quarantine, it’s left to those remaining to step forward and do more to keep schools operating. There should have been more conversation about how to help teachers meet those needs.

Rumors are circulating that there will be further conversation around elementary schools at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled board meeting. However, according to District 2 Representative Gini Pupo-Walker, there will be no vote to return k – 4 to virtual. Hopefully, the conversation will still happen and it’ll be one that focuses more on student needs and less on filling school buildings.

Before we wrap this up, I do want to express appreciation for the passion that current school board members are bringing to the table. It is clear that they are extremely dedicated to what’s best for students and whether you agree with their positions or not, they are driven by a concern for those students. So I’d be remiss if I didn’t express some gratitude for that.

QUICK HITS

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about two $20 million federal grants secured by the TDOE. The grants would allow Commissioner Schwinn and Governor Lee to circumvent the General Assembly in creating educational policy. Well, apparently I’m not the only one who has questions about these grants. Representative John D Ragen has sent a letter to Ms. Schwinn(20-10-16 TED Inquiry) asking a number of questions. Including the following,

Legislation for early childhood literacy, a focus of the cited grant, had been under consideration prior to the COVID-19 crisis. Consequently, it is appropriate, that prior to implementation, this grant be formally presented to Education Committees in both General Assembly chambers.  Moreover, such prior presentation would also be appropriate as well as for other K-12 education system stakeholders. 

It’ll be very interesting to see how the Commissioner responds.

In case you are curious, here is the official break down on accommodations requested, granted, and denied for MNPS staff.

  • Total Employee Accommodation Requests:                                                                 1,561
  • Total Employees Pending Review/Waiting on Medical Documentation:                       228
  • Total Employees Considered “High Risk”:                                                                    514
  • Total Employees Considered “Increased Risk”:                                                           338
  • Total Employees Requesting Daycare Accommodations:                                           341
  • Total Employees Requesting Household Care Accommodations:                              513
  • Total Employees ineligible for COVID-19 Accommodations:                                       37

Thank you MNPS for your transparency.

Seems that I’m not the only one noticing that factors other than “what’s good for kids” are being employed when making re-entry plans for schools. The Center Square has a report out today and notes,

“Of particular interest to political scientists is the fact that the battle over re-opening schools has occurred in a highly polarized political environment, where public health decisions – including whether and when to send children back into classrooms – appear to be wrapped up in partisanship and sentiment toward the president.”

Not serving anyone us well.

ChalkbeatTN has an awesome article about Eagleview Elementary School music teacher Alicia Engram. Engram refuses to be deterred by present circumstances.

“I asked myself, how do I teach music virtually without that social interaction?” she recalls about those early tenuous weeks. “Well, I’m doing it everyday — and loving every bit of it.”

Awesome profile.

MNPS students and families, the College & Career Expo is being held virtually from 2:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Oct. 29. Take a look at the list of colleges you and your student can connect with and register today. It’s free and you will get valuable information for college planning and applications.

Interesting tales from the polling stations. In the District 4 School Board race, former principal Steve Chauncey has apparently decided that the negative path best provides him with a road to victory. Many voters reported that when manning the polling places, he would point to competitors McKinney, Swooner, and Little and proceed to tell voters that his challengers will tell you the school system is wonderful, but he’ll tell you the truth, it’s awful. And I’m guessing he’s just the man to fix it. it’s an interesting strategy, competing for a seat on a governing board by expressing your disdain for the organization.

The sad reality is, just one school board member does not have the ability to have a major impact unless they can find 4 other like-minded members. That means likability and the gift of forming alliances is more important than experience and knowledge. Just saying.

Unfortunately teaching in person comes with even more responsibilities than in normal times. They, along with their spouses/significant others need to be especially diligent in their activities outside of school. Care needs to be given in choosing to attend staff luncheons at Cracker Barrell, weddings, or baby showers. That applies to significant others as well. Here’s a scenario recently given to me by a nurse,

This is not real, but based on one I heard last night. John is a 1st-grade teacher. His wife Susie went to a bridesmaid gathering on Thursday night. On Friday, they learn that Jodie, the maid of honor, tested positive. So, now, Susie is considered a close contact and has to quarantine for 14 days. John is a teacher on a teacher’s salary, so they live in a 1 bedroom apartment in Bellevue. John sleeps on the couch to be safer, but they are still living together in the 900 sq ft apartment. According to MNPS policy and CDC guidelines, John is only a contact of a contact, so he is expected to go to work teaching 1st graders on Monday.

Food for thought.

I’ll leave you with a bright spot. The H.G. Middle School the HG Hill Drive-thru virtual field trip took place today. Staff members and volunteers passed out Book’em Nashville books, school supplies, headphones, masks, and candy! Awesome turnout!

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. I also want to add that there are loads of MNPS employees that would meet qualifications of high or increased risk that chose not to put in for accommodations for a variety of reasons. Mostly because they have non-classroom jobs that really can’t be done only virtually and they fear job loss. I know the district doesn’t have a way to track those, but they exist. I know of at least four in my elementary building, which is around 15% of our in-person staff, and I know there may be more that I’m not aware of.

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