“Because of the movies I make, people get nervous, because they think of me as difficult and angry. I am difficult and angry, but they don’t expect a sense of humor. And the only thing that gets me through is a sense of humor.”
We got a lot of ground to cover today, so let’s not waste a lot of time with formalities.
If you are a resident of Nashville, or you work for the school system, the biggest question on your mind is, what’s happening with the city’s elementary schools after today?
Like the rest of you, I have absolutely no idea what the plan is. Earlier in the week, everyone got an email from Dr. Battle giving them the heads up that after Thanksgiving break, the whole district would return to virtual, or maybe it wouldn’t. But then again, maybe schools would return to virtual before the break. The communication provided no real insight and only served to set people scrambling to make preparations. What kind of preparations? That was open to everyone’s interpretation.
Later in the week, Chief of Schools Mason Bellamy sent an email out to high school and middle school principals asking if they could put together a list of their staff that might be able to help out in elementary schools due to a lack of subs. Earlier in the year, I’d been criticized for “deficit thinking” by some administrators, seems to me this email would serve as a prime example of “deficit thinking”. It makes the assumption that since school buildings are closed, middle school and high school administrators are sitting at home popping grapes and watching new episodes of The Crown.
News Flash! They are not. They are engaging with teachers, students, and families to perfect strategies to provide as much quality instruction to students as possible. Attendance rates are still not where they need to be for remote classrooms, so administrators are trying to find solutions. They’ve got EBT cards to distribute, navigators, to supervise, and evaluations that need completing, on top of all the other requirements that go with running a school. in essence, they are kinda busy.
I don’t think it can be said enough, school buildings are closed, school is not. Let me say it again, school buildings are closed, school is not.
Principals and teachers are working every day to provide students with the best educational experience possible. They are doing everything they can to engage and challenge students. The continued promotion of the idea that the closing of school buildings equals the closing of schools does a tremendous disservice to all of those that are devoting their energies to ensure that schools remain open and students receive an education.
I can hear the chorus of protest now, and I acknowledge the validity of concerns. Yes, parents need to work, and they don’t have the time to remain at home with kids. Yes, not all kids are being served at an adequate level. Yes, there are socialization opportunities that kids are missing out on. Yes, some kids are not fully engaged. Yes, it’s hard. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But which of those previous statements were not true before the pandemic?
If the answer is none, sign me up for your school.
All of these issues were present before the COVID-19 outbreak. We have never created, nor fully invested in, a school system that adequately served the needs of ALL kids. That’s the sad truth. When presented with these issues in the past, did we all say the situation was hopeless, and cry out for a return to a one-room schoolhouse? Or did we dig in and try to find solutions?
Some of us did pronounce the system as a failure and worked on the development of a new system rooted in charter schools. While I vehemently disagree with that prognosis and approach, at least it was trying to do something rooted in the future and not anchored to the past.
Time has shown, that the same issues that plague traditional schools, also provide challenges for charter schools. Despite all the uproar and all the arguing over which buildings should house students, in the end, we have still failed to create a system that adequately provides for all children. Why not use the lessons of the past, combined with the opportunities of the future, to rectify that?
This next point is going to be an unpopular point with some of you, but that doesn’t make it any less true. At a recent MNPS school board meeting, Dr. Bellamy told the board that we know kids can’t be in front of a computer all day. The board accepted that assertion without question. But I ask, how do we know that?
The reality is that Valor Charter Schools have been providing online instruction for its students remotely every day, all day since August. Students attend class via the computer just like they would in-person. Yet, I haven’t heard of any increased instances of mental illness related to overexposure to computer screens by their student body. I haven’t heard of any mass exodus of families from their rolls. In fact, based on the official 30-day counts, they are not losing anybody. Attendance reports confirm that they are not only not losing kids, but getting them to engage as well.
Valor announced last week that they will be virtual until February 1. Despite the inconvenience to parents this presents, I didn’t see any social media outbursts. No accusations of Valor damaging kids or not having their best interests at heart. Why?
Surely Valor’s parents work. Surely they have other obligations that have to be tabled to accommodate their kids’ schooling. Why not the backlash against Valor that is being experienced by Dr. Battle?
I don’t know the complete answers, but after talking to a number of parents, I suspect that the root of their success lies with trust. The parents whose children attend Valor, trust that school leader Todd Dickson and the administrators have their best interests at heart. Something that Dickson and company have never taken for granted.
To their credit, they’ve worked hard to garner that trust through regular communications and true transparency. One parent described the level of communication delivered as rising almost to the level of over-communicating. Can MNPS parents say the same about MNPS?
Trust issues have long been a thorn in the side of public schools and the reasons are 1000 fold. We could spend weeks dissecting the issue and still not arrive at a clear picture. It’s not a Dr. Battle issue, any more than it is a Shawn Joseph or Jesse Register issue, yet it remains an insurmountable challenge. Until it’s solved, or at least mitigated, there will not be a successful path forward.
Am I a fan of Valor? Absolutely not. I respect founder Todd Dickson and even like him on a personal level, but we have certainly had our moments in the past. Here’s the thing though, I don’t let my personal feelings get in the way if you have something that I want. Currently, Dickson has something I want. Valor clearly has some answers that can help better serve MNPS. Answers that would serve the district’s school kids.
Are they perfect? Absolutely not. But, as they say in say in AA, listen to it all and disregard what you don’t need. It’s about time we hold our nose and see what can be gleaned from Valor. ideology shouldn’t stand in the way of doing the right thing.
But I digress, back to Bellamy’s email. The whole first email was rendered moot when moments later a second email arrived. This one explained that his executive assistant had done exactly as he’d instructed, he’d just forgotten to tell her that he and his executive directors had changed their mind on strategy. Therefore, disregard the first email asking for help…unless of course…you had help to offer…but that help might not be needed because Dr. Battle might make a decision that erased the need, Confused yet?
The Bellamy email did nothing but increase questions and speculation among the MNPS community.
If that wasn’t enough, at 4:17 yesterday, after most staff had called it a day, the “MNPS Insider” newsletter arrived with this paragraph buried inside,
Dr. Battle updates district on COVID-19 status, plansEarlier this week, Dr. Adrienne Battle updated staff, families and students on the potential transition to all-virtual learning after the Thanksgiving holiday.All students will likely return to virtual learning on Monday, Nov. 30, if Nashville’s COVID-19 metrics don’t improve by Thanksgiving.Dr. Battle plans to make a final decision no later than Tuesday, Nov. 24. If elementary school students in Pre-K through 4th grade and those with exceptional needs rejoin students currently in the virtual learning environment, all students can expect to be learning virtually for three weeks until the start of the winter holiday break on Dec. 17.It also remains possible that schools could close before Thanksgiving if the city’s numbers get drastically worse between now and then.As a reminder, you can always find the district’s COVID-19 guidance here: www.mnps.org/covid19-guidance.
He co-founded and currently chairs the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning called CASEL, another nonprofit. Linda Darling-Hammond who is guiding the Biden education transition team is a CASEL board of directors emeritus. Social-emotional learning has been controversial among parents, but it was sweeping through the education curriculum before Covid-19 hit. Some promote it as replacing the past harsh test requirements, but it is about getting students better prepared for tests if you read between the lines. SEL is like sophisticated character education with publishing companies cashing in on questionable assessments that collect online data about student behavior.
He’s repeatedly called a leading educator. But he has done more in entrepreneurial pursuits than in public schools. The CASEL website bio states: He has produced four films, written for dozens of newspapers and magazines, founded an ice cream company, and been rewarded with degrees and honors which he said he didn’t deserve but happily accepted on behalf of others. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s hardly a vita that emphasizes time in the classroom.Remember Biden might be a spouse of a school teacher, but he was also a former meber of the Obama administration. An administration not known for it’s strength in education policy.
“If you want schools to open as we do, then districts need increased flexibility in the rules for managing classroom cohorts, especially at the elementary level where transmission is the lowest,” they wrote. “We need to reevaluate the quarantine requirements in the state guidance to ensure we have enough adults available to run our schools.”
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.
Make sure you enter this week’s survey questions.