“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
This week marks the beginning of the end of the election season. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, more people voted via absentee ballot than ever before, and as a by-product, we are still waiting for results in the race for the presidency.
Overnight, former vice president Joe Biden surpassed Trump in both Georgia and Pennsylvania. I suspect that by the end of the day he will be declared the victor and we’ll have a new president-elect.
For many reasons, that is cause for celebration. Donald Trump should have never been elected president, and the fact that he was speaks to the deep divisions and the increased marginalization of people in this country. On one hand, it’s exciting that Joe Biden received more votes than any other presidential candidate in the history of the United States. However, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Donald Trump received more votes than any other Republican candidate in the history of the United States.
No matter how you slice it, this election reveals a deeply divided country. Half of the population has no understanding of how the other half lives and thinks, nor are they interested in knowing. Not every one of the people who voted for Donald Trump is a heartless, ignorant racist. Not everyone who cast a vote for Biden is a socialist, elitist, looking for free stuff. Some of the most amazing human beings I know are members of both sides. Neither side holds exclusivity on ignorance and a false sense of superiority, just as neither holds it for generosity and kindness either.
My hope is that with the noise from the Oval Office eliminated, some of the animosity will recede and people will actually talk to each other, instead of just shouting and dismissing. Maybe we’ll recognize that no side owns the whole truth, and nobody has all the right answers. Talking to more people leads to stronger solutions. Often times it’s out of the conversations that I think are the most fruitless that I suddenly find truths.
We need to recognize that our life stories are not all identical. Often it’s not ignorance that draws people to a conclusion, but rather life experiences that are different than our own That’s an important lesson that was driven home to me some years ago by a young activist named Allison Simpson. When I initially sat down to talk with her, I was convinced she was misinformed. I may still disagree with her on certain things, but after listening to her life stories and seeing how her life impacted her thinking, I realize different. We talk about how reading can open doors in our mind, talking to people different from us is equally important.
Equity is not created by relocating the tent, but rather by enlarging it and ensuring that there is room for everyone underneath. Sometimes that means hanging with people that might make you a little uncomfortable, or a lot uncomfortable. Keep in mind though, you are likely bringing the same discomfort to some one else. As Gandhi once said. “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” It’s up to all of us to decide what we want that change to look like.
Let me be among the first to offer congratulations to Joe Biden, and offer a prayer of de-escalation of hostility between Americans.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil once famously said, “All politics are local.” This year, those local politics are especially interesting. State House Representative Bob Freeman and the rest of Nashville’s Democratic contingency handily won their races. Over on the Senate side, Democratic challenger Heidi Campbell managed to defeat Republican incumbent Steve Dickerson, who has oft been referred to by political insiders as the most effective Democrat in the Senate.
This outcome brings me joy on several levels. First of all, Campbell has been a friend since the early 90’s when she was the frontwoman for the local rock band The Keep. I can personally attest to her innate goodness and willingness to listen to all. She is committed to education issues and promises to keep an open door to the state’s teachers, parents, and students.
Secondly, Dickerson’s campaign against Campbell was especially ugly. While the attacks didn’t come directly from Dickerson, his surrogates definitely trod heavily on the low road. The fact that voters were able to see through the subterfuge and select the best candidate is cause for celebration and a reason for hope.
Meanwhile, the race that piqued the interest of the city’s education advocates was the race for the District 4 School Board seat. Earlier in the year, Metro Council appointed Berthena Nabaa-McKinney to fill the position vacated by the untimely death of Anna Shepherd until an election could be held. When voters went to the polls on Tuesday, they were faced with choosing between 4 candidates – a Black man, a Muslim Black woman, a White man, and a White woman.
It was frequently noted during the preceding months that a person of color had never won the District 4 seat, and that prior to Anna Shepherd, the seat had traditionally gone to a White male. Many, including myself, wondered about the electability of a non-white candidate. We were wrong.
The top two vote-getters were people of color, with one being a practicing Muslim. That is not insignificant and should open the door to even more qualified candidates in the future. It feels good to be proven wrong.
I’m equally proud of the race run by Pam Swoner. Swoner has no local political ties and ran solely based on being a citizen who cared enough to want to make a difference. She remarkably secured the endorsement of MNEA and proceeded to work her ass off to win. She didn’t. In fact, she finished a distant fourth. But throughout, she displayed class and a commitment to… well… being the change she wanted to see. She set a remarkable example, and we are all better for it.
Some political insiders were critical of her decision to run, and in the aftermath of the election, criticized both her and MNEA for taking votes away from McKinney. Admirably, MNEA stood by Swoner, admitting that they lost the election, but remaining steadfast in their support of Swoner. Again… evidence of being the change you want to see.
The winner of the election was charter school advocate and community activist, John Little. Little and I have been in the education advocacy trenches as opponents going nigh on a decade. In the wake of his win, I would offer this insight.
Don’t believe the hype, nor should the questionable actions of his past be fully dismissed either. Like all of us, Little is a complex person. While he is a mentee of Achievement School District founder Chris Barbic, he is also a tireless worker who cares deeply for those he represents. There is no doubt that he will fight for the children of Nashville. Pesonally I have always valued the time we have spent together outside of the political arena. He was gracious enough to share his considerable knowledge of the game of basketball with my son, while he himself is an incredible father.
Still, that doesn’t negate the questionable strategies he’s employed in the past, nor that the alliances forged have not always had the best interests of public education at heart.
Ultimately, I would argue that his ascension to the board signifies a failing in the approach that public education advocates have employed over the last decade. Too much energy has been expended fighting against the forces of privatization and charter schools, while too little has been done to improve public schools.
We’ll see what happens in the future, but for today, I welcome John Little to the board and congratulate him on a race well run. As a board member. I hope he’ll employ a little less bull horn and a little more listening, Remember, now is the time to be the change you want.
ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS AGAIN
When MNPS announced plans to begin re-opening schools for live instruction, the brunt of the conversation centered around the health concerns of students and teachers. Unfortunately, not enough time was spent discussing the impact that COVID would have on the ability of schools to actually operate. Now, that elementary schools that have been “open” for a while, I think we must examine their level of functionality.
What elementary school principals are being tasked with is the equivalent of running two schools, with barely enough resources to operate one school. That would be problematic in the best of times, but due to the pandemic, principals are facing even more responsibilities on top of already overwhelming expectations.
EBT card distribution has fallen on their plate, as does the packing of food for weekend distribution. The lunchroom staff is not to have any contact with students, so you know who has to oversee/recruit/assign other educational staff to do this on Fridays.
The biggest challenge currently being faced is contact tracing in the event a student or teacher tests positive. It is up to the principal to identify all those that need to be quarantined. Once identified, the notification must occur. That means calls made and letters sent. I’m told the format and contents of the letter required to notify parents of possible exposure have been changed 3 times in the last 2 weeks. If students aren’t caught before they arrive at school, a quarantine room needs to be set up to hold students until arrangements can be made for parent pick up. Guess who’s staffing the room in most cases?
To be fair, in schools that have school nurses, much of the contact tracing is being handled by those nurses. But not all schools have nurses, and those that do are placing an incredible burden on the shoulders of their nurses. Contact tracing has become even more difficult since the CDC changed its guidelines from 15 minutes of continual exposure to 15 minutes of cumulative exposure.
Rising cases equate to rising concerns. As a result, attendance has become fraught with challenges. There is no clear directive from the district office on attendance marking for kids who are sent home for quarantine. It’s once again, a school by school decision.
Ideally, when a student is sent home for quarantine from exposure, that student’s schedule should be moved onto the “Distance Learning” roster (another teacher) until the student returns at the end of quarantine – then their schedule is remade to show face-to-face learning under hopefully the original teacher. That’s a lot of moving parts and note how it’s happening with regularity.
More than a few parents have expressed a desire to transition back to virtual schooling out of safety concerns for their children. There are reports that some kids are getting so afraid of getting sick, they don’t want to get out of the car in the morning. Despite these incidents, the district is inexplicably not budging on their decision to not allow families to move back to remote learning. Furthermore, principals are being put in the position of being the ones to inform families that they can’t transition. They have been instructed only to forward up extenuating circumstances that they have already vetted and approved to the Executive Director for the next level of approval before it gets passed on to Dr. Bellamy.
This is problematic because these decisions will color future relationships between principals and families. The executive directors never have to face these families in person and therefore there will be few future negative ramifications for them. I can think of no legitimate reason why they shouldn’t assume the responsibility of informing parents.
So now we have a situation where principals and teachers are so overwhelmed that the normal functionality of schools is negatively impacted. How impacted is impossible to tell.
If you look at the COVID report for MNPS, it only divides data up into “positive” and “quarantined” with no differentiation between student and teacher. That doesn’t tell the whole story.
Several elementary schools are showing between 40 and 50 quarantines. If the majority of those are staff, the question becomes, “How is the school operating and to what level of efficiency?”
To add even more burden on principals, Executive Directors are now sending out missives on possible disciplinary actions if adults and students are not properly wearing masks. Initially, there will be a verbal reprimand, but a second offense will require a counseling memo. A memo that will surely go in the permanent personnel file of the offender.
In the midst of all of this chaos, principals are also expected to complete evaluations of teachers by the first week of December. Hmmm… what if I am a principal or AP forced into quarantine for 14 days? Will there be extensions offered?
One principal mused to me, “I used to be in the business of education, I’m now in the business of human warehousing.”
Is the district’s current strategy truly one that puts students first? If it is, I don’t see it. We’ve got to find a way to help out educators, or else we’ll be looking at rebuilding a workforce.
Tuesday brings us to another board meeting. Taking a look at the agenda, and once again, there is no Director’s report. Sure, there is an opportunity for Dr. Battle to make some remarks under the “Chair Report” but no actual report. Coupled with a recent email (Dear MNPS families and staff) sent out by Battle, I can’t help but wonder if transparency hasn’t resorted to what it was under Dr. Joseph. Hey… I know… why don’t we get an elementary school principal to make the Director’s Report? After all, they are already shouldering the responsibility for everyone else.
So riddle me this. MNPS parents are not permitted to visit their kid’s schools or attend sporting events due to health concerns. Executive Directors are limited in their allowable school visits, also out of health concerns. Yet it is perfectly admissible for the Governor, his wife, the Commissioner of Education, along with their entourage, and Dr. Battle’s leadership team to visit a school? Not only that, but their visit means social distancing protocols are also waived?
If that’s not enough of a Marie Antoinette moment for you, take a close look at the first picture. Notice the plexiglass dividers? I suspect those aren’t available at your local MNPS school. Once again, our state’s education leaders continue to paint a false picture of reality. I don’t expect much from them, but I do expect more from MNPS’s leadership team.
Chalkbeat has a story about how Denver schools are re-valuating the metrics used to open schools. Dr. Bill Burman, director of Denver Public Health, said this week that he and his colleagues are “actively re-examining that question” based on local and national data and the experience of other districts:
“What we’ve recognized is that schools can be a safe place if they are following [safety protocols] even in situations of higher community transmission than anticipated,” he said. “Rather than having a dashboard that reflects metrics of community transmission, maybe it should be metrics of school safety and school disruption.”
Hmmm… now that’s an idea.
Democrats for Education Reform aren’t wasting any time getting their recommendations for Secretary of Education in. Their list is a little worrisome because in the past both President Obama and then-Vice President Biden were all too willing to embrace DFER’s agenda. All three of the names floated – Chicago schools chief Janice Jackson, the head of Baltimore schools Sonja Brookins Santelises, or Philadelphia superintendent William Hite – are troublesome, but it is that of Santelises that raises the most red flags for me. She’s a former TFAer and currently a Chief for Change. As such, she has close ties with Tennessee’s Commissioner and shares her love of the Wit and Wisdom curriculum. On the flip side, if she got the gig, maybe she’d pull Penny Schwinn north.
You might have missed it, as the announcement came the day after election day and you were preoccupied, but on Wednesday, Governor Lee announced $5 million of federal COVID money being directed to charter schools. Per Center Square, Governor Lee offered the following explanation:
“Tennessee’s charter sector provides many families across the state with the opportunity to make the best choice for their child’s education – an opportunity they would not otherwise have,” Lee said. “This grant will help to ensure Tennesseans continue to have access to high-quality school options by supporting schools that have demonstrated strong student growth.”
By the way, if you thought the high volume of turnover at the Tennessee Department of Education was a thing of the past, guess again. Word is that recent departures are in the vicinity of double digits. Anecdotal evidence has the Governor using this turnover to make his argument on the effectiveness of Schwinn with lawmakers, telling fellow Republicans who are critical of the commissioner, “Hey, you’ve been arguing for a smaller DOE, she’s making it happen.” Yes, she is. Oh, Penny.
Speaking of the Commissioner, if you’re a fan, you’ll want to check back in on Monday when I’ll be sharing a plethora of documents offering even more Schwinnigans. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you might even get a little angry.
Included will be her response to a recent letter from Representative Ragan (20-10-16 TED Inquiry) in which she disavows any elements of Common Core in current department initiatives. We’ve also got her resignation letter as Executive Director for Capital Collegiate dated January 21st, 2019, who knew the school was relying on the Commish’s willingness and ability to work nights and weekends, from 30 – 40 hours a week, while working for both the Delaware and Texas Departments of Education to keep the school going.
To whet your appetite, I’ll leave you with this document that seems to indicate that the school was paying for Schwinn’s travel back and forth from her job in Delaware. Interestingly, she admits that she’s currently employed outside of CCA, but never discloses that her responsibilities are now outside of the state of California and she is a Delaware resident. This ain’t a job with the Home Depot down the street that she secured. Though graciously, she offers to cut her salary to offset travel costs. Mind you at the time she was making roughly $120K.
We’ll have more on Monday, but for now, that’s a wrap.
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