“Choose not to look, however, at your own peril. The owner of an old house knows that whatever you are ignoring will never go away. Whatever is lurking will fester whether you choose to look or not. Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction. Whatever you are wishing away will gnaw at you until you gather the courage to face what you would rather not see.” ― Isabel Wilkerson,
I spent part of my youth growing up outside San Antonio. My father was a fisherman, so we spent a great deal of time at the local lakes. Frequently visiting places like Canyon Lake and Lake McQueeney.
Both had their attractions. Canyon Lake was home to bigger fish, but McQueeney had a juke joint near where we fished, and I have very fond memories of the sounds drifting across the parking lot while we tried to catch a bass or a catfish. That bar played both kinds of music, country and western.
Both lakes were also home to very healthy populations of Cottonmouths. These were the Texas version of Cottonmouths, not the kind that is rumored to reside in Tennessee. I’ve fished all over this state and I’ve never come across a snake that rivaled these south Texas serpents for meanness and nastiness. truly the stuff of nightmares.
At Canyon Lake, we’d fish off of a low dock at night for catfish. The light would draw the snakes and you would see them swimming towards it, only to duck underneath the dock at the last minutes. The proximity to these ornery creatures never failed to unnerve me. sending me home with fresh nightmares.
One spring, I must have been around 12 years old, we were visiting McQueeney. It was an exceptionally warm day and I wanted to get in the water something fierce. My parents weren’t having any of it.
“It wasn’t that hot.”
“You don’t have a bathing suit.”
“There are snakes in that water.”
All of their rebuttals fell on deaf ears, and finally, I wore them down, “Fine, you have a pair of cut offs in the van. Wear them and go ahead.”
I quickly dashed into the old VW van that we owned at that time and proceed to switch into shorts, filled with excitement about jumping into the water. I hadn’t been swimming since the preceding fall, and to say I missed it was an understatement.
While I was in the process of changing, the air was punctured by the sound of shotguns nearby. As I emerged from the van, I quickly realized that those shotguns had been discharged in the vicinity of where I had planned to jump in. Two cottonmouths had been spotted and a couple fisherman had made an effort to dispatch them.
Suddenly the water lost its appeal, as the realization dawned that the snakes had been right where I was planning to enter the water. The threat of snakebite easily dismissed 15 minutes ago, suddenly became very real. The danger much more eminent and concrete, I no longer had any desire to enter the water.
“Come on, what are you waiting for?” my mother’s voice cajoled.
“You said you wanted to go swimming,” said my father, adding his voice to hers. “Let’s go. Get in the water. Hup to it.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get in the water, I silently slipped back in the van and changed out of those shorts.
The reality is, my parents knew better all along. They tried to share the potential threat with me, but 15 minutes earlier, I wasn’t ready to hear it and process the warning. Luckily fate interceded before something disastrous happen.
The conversation at this week’s board meeting over whether or not parents who had previously chosen to attend schools in person, and who were now having second thoughts, should be permitted to switch back to virtual or not reminded me of that Texas day in May. MNPS Director Adrienne Battle and her cabinet are holding fast to the argument that people must adhere to their original choice. A choice made when COVID numbers were much lower and not rapidly increasing like wildfire. Much like my fear of snakebite, the danger at that time, while ever-present, was not tangible.
For some parents, it had never even been a choice. Remember, in-person attendance was the de facto selection if a family made no selection.
This is not a whimsical fear that parents are facing. It’s not like they have no reason for concern. MNPS reported 89 new cases of COVID-19 last week, with 982 students and teachers in quarantine. At Julia Green ES, where the Governor and his posse of state and local dignitaries visited last week, 243 are in quarantine. Their numbers are exceptionally high, but they are not alone in being impacted by COVID-19. Per the Tennessean,
At least 65 students and staff members from Tulip Grove Elementary are in quarantine, 49 from Glendale Elementary, 49 from Cockrill Elementary, 45 from Hermitage Elementary, 27 from Harpeth Valley Elementary, 23 from Joelton Elementary, 21 from Cora Howe School, 18 from Glengarry Elementary, 17 from Cranberry Elementary, 16 from Westmeade Elementary, 15 from Glenview Elementary and 14 from Norman Binkley Elementary.
Throughout the state of Tennessee, numbers are on the rise. The Department of Education’s dashboard, updated weekly, shows an increase in new cases among students by 208 cases, there were 128 more new cases reported this week as opposed to last week. In other words, the threat becomes more and more tangible at the same time district and officials are increasingly putting their fingers in their ears and humming louder.
Meanwhile, nobody talks about what the effect on a school is when 1/3, or more, of the staff, are on quarantine. Schools were already facing covering the same amount of responsibility with half the staff, now those that are uninfected or unexposed must scramble to assume even more responsibilities. As one teacher writes,
While the measures enacted to keep us all safe from COVID are appreciated they are having a significant impact on the functioning of the school and the mental health of the staff. By continuing to have in person instruction when case counts and community transmission is high, we’re being forced to juggle too many things, and aren’t able to do any one thing well. When teachers and staff are placed on quarantine after outbreaks or as a result of contact tracing, the burden falls to those of us left to cover multiple jobs and often multiple grade levels to make up for it. And because of the difficulty of finding substitutes, we may only have 1-2 substitute teachers for every 8-10 teachers that are asked to stay home. Those of us who haven’t been asked to quarantine
are under immense pressure to continue going in, even on days when we ordinarily would have stayed home due to illness or needing to take time off.
To pretend that these shortcomings do not impact student learning is to ignore reality. Yes, kids are in buildings. Yes, they are getting increased socialization. But they are also in a state of constant disruption. Don’t think for a minute it is not noted by students when a fellow student, or favorite teacher, is suddenly absent for an extended period of time. Don’t think for a second those same students aren’t aware of the constant threat of infection they face. This is just not a tenable situation for anyone.
What about students faced with quarantine? The district maintains that they are receiving “robust” instruction while being out, I’m not saying that’s not happening anywhere, but if it is, it is more the exception than the rule. Mostly kids are regulated to 2 weeks of asynchronous work, with little or no live instruction. Again, not a beneficial situation for students.
At Tuesday’s board meeting Dr. Batlle look tired, and exasperated with continually having to explain her plans, in a world where there are no easy plans. Details were scant at a time when information is precious. Teachers are looking to her for some kind of guidance on what the future might look like. They are not looking for concrete answers, but rather an information that will guide their own planning.
Are we going to be in virtual for an extended period of time? Should they invest the precious time they have in learning remote strategies? Where is the PD that focuses on remote strategies versus content? How is the district supporting schools in getting kids to show up and participate in class? Are we waiting for a teacher or student to die before we take steps? These are all legitimate questions that continue to go unanswered?
Or on the other hand, should teachers begin planning for a pending return to schools? Lesson plans have to be altered and classes prepped to welcome kids back. It all takes time, what are we doing to give teachers that time? How are we allowing families to prepare?
I think it needs to be written at the front of every school building that teachers do not just roll out of bed and decide what they are going to teach that day. Lesson plans are often built weeks in advance, resources to facilitate instruction collected weeks in advance. In light of that, they need more information and communication.
I understand that metrics on the ground are constantly shifting, and at times they prevent the implementation of plans. We are all in a constant state of flux, and adjustment. What shouldn’t change are the metrics upon which you make your decisions. Those need to be shared and adhered to – if x and y happen then z is likely to happen unless q happens, then F happens. Understanding the metrics makes it a lot easier to accept and understand decisions. Understanding decisions make it much easier to support decisions. Now is the time to over-communicate, not the opposite.
My son, as many of you know is an avid skateboarder. He’s been boarding since two, always avoiding injury. Our number one rule is, you can’t skate scared. Skating scared makes you tentative, leading to over or under commitment, which leads to injury. As a former athlete herself, Dr. Battle should be familiar with this meme. And just like you can’t skate scared, you can’t lead scared.
I can hear her protestations now, but her actions speak different. She may describe the district’s response to the current crisis as creative and innovative, but the reality is that it’s been tepid and individualistic. More afraid of offending certain groups than protecting all.
Some schools have been doing tremendous work, at great expense, but that has more to do with the individual school’s leadership team and building staff, than it does district guidance. Schools are succeeding despite district leadership, not because of it, and that script has got to be balanced out.
Drawing a line in the sand is not creative. Focusing almost solely on returning kids to buildings is not innovative. Maintaining every practice rooted in the past, just because we always did it, is neither creative nor innovative. The same holds true for treating stakeholders like mushrooms.
During last week’s board meeting Dr. Battle voiced returning kids to in-person learning as a primary goal of the district on at least three occasions. Chief of Schools Mason Bellamy told board members, “We know kids can’t sit in front of a computer all day.”
The mission of MNPS is not to fill buildings. In-person learning is a primary strategy in what should be the district’s true mission – providing every child a world-class education. That is a mission that should not be reliant on just one strategy or a set location.
To Bellamy, I pose this question, why? In framing his assumption, he’s falling into a trap that non-educators have been succumbing to for years – assuming that live classrooms were solely filled with kids sitting in rows listening to lectures. If you visited a class pre-pandemic, you know that statement is not true. While instruction via computer is currently in its formative stages, it doesn’t have to be just sitting in front of a screen. My children’s teachers have formulated several successful strategies – scavenger hunts, assigning teams, students reading aloud – to facilitate learning remotely. So the statement shouldn’t be “can’t”, but rather “how”.
If I were on the school board at this juncture, I would identify 5 problems presented by remote learning and task MNPS leadership by demonstrating how these issues have been addressed. After all, we are halfway through the second quarter, so surely work has been done.
My five would be student attendance, engagement, and participation once attendance is secured, participation in asynchronous learning, teacher unfamiliarity with remote learning strategies, and teacher capacity. Notice I didn’t mention assessment, SEL, or content delivery. That is because I trust teachers to deliver the latter if we figure out how to get kids in class, engage them, do their required work, familiarize teachers with best practices in remote instruction, and ensure they have the proper time in which to prepare and deliver while maintaining their own sanity.
Lastly, we need to let go of the utopian fantasy that in-person schooling was not fraught with its own problems. Over the last decade, schools have created countless programs to address attendance, student engagement, and bullying issues. Why are we shocked when these same issues raise their heads on remote learning platforms? The difference is that previously we could write those off as “other people’s problems”, not that school lives in our living room, we see different.
The bottom line is if we cannot keep people safe, and we cannot provide enough personnel to fully staff a school, that school has no business being open, let alone forcing families to adhere to a decision they made when they thought the aforementioned was possible. In the middle of a pandemic is not the time to be McGivering schools. To offset that challenge, MNPS needs to make every effort to ensure that they are offering a viable alternative. Again the statement is not “can’t”, but rather “how”.
“It is a slap in the face of educators, students, and parents to give this position to someone who has no teaching/education background. There are hundreds of educators across this state who could do a huge service in this position, actually helping the legislature understand what is needed in our classrooms-literacy experts with PhDs in this field. Yet they hire someone who teachers and public school supporters feel is hostile to public education and public school teachers.
Classroom experience is required in most all of the consequential DOE jobs, yet not here? This almost feels like a lobbying position, but we all know that it isn’t legal for a legislator to lobby unless they wait a year after leaving office.”
Literally $98,000 for someone with zero classroom experience, whose only experience came from reading dishonest talking points from conservative think tanks.”
As someone who has had a front-row seat to Dunn’s ineffectiveness over the years, I can attest to his lack of qualifications. I don’t think it can be said enough, he couldn’t pass a voucher bill, despite appearing to have sufficient support, until then HouseLeader Glen Casada started breaking knees and twisting arms. Perhaps that’s the advice he’ll give Ms. Schwinn regarding the passage of the pending Literacy Bill – engage Casada and let him do his magic.
As dubious an appointment as this is though, I think we have to careful not to fall into the Governor’s smoke and mirrors. Despite making off with $98k in taxpayer money, Dunn remains a symptom of the problem and not the problem itself. Just another tool that Governor Lee is using to enact policy without the support of the General Assembly and the citizens of Tennessee. The focus needs to remain on the Governor and his primary tool of destruction, Commissioner Penny Schwinn.
Whether Dunn collects a paycheck or not, the issues around vouchers, literacy, testing, and funding are still very much in play. Issues where the governor is taking a position in opposition to the best interests of Tennesseans. We can’t lose sight of that.
Somebody also needs to remind Mr. Dunn that he cannot ethically lobby until a year from now. Trust me, we’ll be watching the calendar.
In an upcoming edition of Dad Gone Wild, I’ll be taking a look at the career of the other half of the Schwinn family. She’s not the only one to benefit from the exploiters and enablers. I think there is an argument to be made that, sans his wife, Paul Schwinn might very well still be an English Teacher in Baltimore. The two met there while serving as Teach for America corps members. When she secured employment out west from Hope Street, eventually he did as well. In Delaware, while she worked for the state DOE, he secured employment with an education agency funded by the department. In Texas, he was employed by a charter network, one that has recently come under scrutiny. Remember, back in Cali, his wife was the chosen school board candidate of Charter School advocates.
It’s worth noting that despite being employed in Texas by the Idea Public Charter School network and drawing a reported salary of $93K, Capitol Collegiate Academy, the school founded by his wife, felt compelled to offer him a part-time job at $40k as a literacy coach. I’m thinking the commute would have been a bitch, unless of course you had a wife already going that way. Or maybe, he could have used Idea’s private plane. Of course, like many of the “official documents” at CCA, this one has no signature. So we don’t know if he accepted or not.
If you think about it, lawsuits and ethical violations seem to be a common denominator with the Schwinn family employment – Hope Street, Delaware, Idea, Texas Department of Education, are just a few examples. We’ll keep looking for more.
To get a deeper understanding of what Tennesseans face this upcoming legislative session regarding a literacy bill, it’s important to look at other states. Colorado passed one recently and is currently in the process of phasing it in. Not without issues.
Dell is handing out three $10K grants this week. The grants will go to classes at Antioch Middle School, H.G. Hill Middle School, and Jere Baxter Middle School to support creative ways to teach science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM). Great news and much appreciated.
I appreciate the robust Veteran’s Day thank you delivered by The Tennessee Department of Education. I’m guessing Dunn didn’t advise on this one.
The recently completed election raised some questions about the purpose and intentions of Gideon’s Army. News 5’s Phil William took it upon himself to investigate. What he found is an organization rooted in community and family, fighting for a better world. As member Larry Turnly, known as LT, put it,
“It’s about creating safe zones and safe spaces where our children can be out and be children – and our elderly can walk around and be safe -without worrying about something happening to them. That’s what we do.”.
Diane Ravitch today shares the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss’s interpretation of what Biden’s transition team means for education policy. Stauss is a little more optimistic than I, due to her faith in Linda Darling-Hammond and the two union heads. Myself, not so much, but we shall see.
We’ll have more on Monday, but for now, that’s a wrap.
I want to leave you with the words of Nashville’s treasures, Denise Hicks, who’s family is currently dealing with some health related challenges,
Board games are great training grounds for real life, especially the games where you roll dice and draw cards. Sometimes you get an advance, and sometimes you get sent back to START. You keep the END in sight whether you’re ahead or behind. Mostly, it’s the quality of the time you spend playing and the company you keep that are important.
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.
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