THE LONG AND THE SHORT OF IT

“As far as Kiva could tell, whenever selfish humans encountered a wrenching, life-altering crisis, they embarked on a journey of five distinct stages: Denial. Denial. Denial. Fucking Denial. Oh, shit everything is terrible grab what you can and run.”
John Scalzi, The Last Emperox

 

This past weekend, riding in the car with my 10-year old son, I was regaling him with tales of my origins in the hospitality industry. Not quite, “I walked 10 miles to school every day, both ways uphill” stories, but not too far off either.

I started working at the Summit Resort when I was 15 years old. I was a dishwasher, and it sucked.

The Summit was your classic Pocono Mountain honeymoon resort, complete with champagne glass-shaped hot tubs in the rooms. Serving three meals a day meant plenty of dishes to wash and don’t even get me started on pots. You haven’t lived till you have taken a piece of steel wool to 75 metal baking sheets encrusted with bacon grease and remnants,

This was at a time when the restaurant business wasn’t exactly a friendly place to be. Employers really didn’t care what you thought, nor did they see a need to pretend otherwise. The owner of the place used to like to pop in behind the dish machine and tell us tales, that he must have thought were inspirational, about his 7 decades of experience in the industry, “I was your age when I started, doing the same job you are. I worked hard and paid attention. Look at me now. All of this could be yours someday.”

We would try to hold back our smirks and say, “Thank you, Mr. Farda!” Only to break into laughter and mock him endlessly after he left.

The kitchen at that time was helmed by a married couple that between them probably topped the scales at 600 lbs. I share their physical dimensions because when they got to fighting – which they often did – their largeness filled the entire kitchen. It wasn’t uncommon for their arguments to escalate to them hurling knives at each other. Luckily no one was ever permanently harmed.

There was a definite social stratification in place among the staff. Dishwashers were at the bottom. Hostess at the top, due to their managerial duties. Everyone in their own distinct niche somewhere in between. Classes didn’t readily mix, though exceptions were made on occasion. But dating outside of your class was frowned upon.

New hires had to go through an official, and an unofficial onboarding process, with the latter being much more rigorous. Disparaging remarks of all sorts flew around, and if somebody sensed that you were sensitive to any of it, it was like sharks with blood in the water. The abuse would become relentless until the subject either quit or managed to convince that they could handle it. The work was hard, the people were harder, and nobody had time to invest in you if you weren’t going to be able to keep up.

The flip side being, that once accepted, people had your back like nowhere I’ve worked since. Furthermore, the time spent at the Summit taught me lessons I still call upon today and it instilled in me a fortitude that has served me well throughout a life fraught with challenges and unplanned shifts in fortune. Truth is, the Summit did more to make me career and college ready than any school. But it still sucked.

When I was 16, I moved up to a server. Over the next 5 years, my employment life took on a familiar pattern. I would realize that the job sucked, once school started back, I’d quit – vowing that I would never return again. Sometimes I would even go as far as sharing these thoughts with the long-time host/manager Berta. Luckily she listened to these thoughts as much as she did anything else I said.

Spring would roll around though and all the bad times would be forgotten, I’d start thinking about my favorite co-workers and, well, the money wasn’t great but it was better than most places. I knew the systems and Berta would give me the shifts I wanted. Maybe I could make a little more money somewhere else, and maybe the culture was better somewhere else…but did I really want to take that risk? I was comfortable there, in an odd manner.

I’d start thinking about all the good stuff, cutting up with co-workers, drinks after work, picking on new people. Come May, invariably I would find myself standing in front of Berta’s hostess stand asking for my job back.

“You again?” would be the greeting, but employment would soon be offered.

It usually took about a week or so, before I remembered how bad things really were. Picking on new people might be fun, but often I was considered a fair target as well. The money was never quite a good as I remembered and it somehow had slipped my mind how back-breaking the work could be. Some of my favored co-workers moved on during my absences, and the new ones weren’t quite as much fun. It didn’t take long until I was contemplating my exit again, and wondering if I could make it to the end of the summer again.

Next year was always going to be different, but for 5 years it never was.

The point in sharing this story is because I can’t help but pick up on shared elements between it and the current push to get schools back open. Due to an extended absence, school buildings have taken on a persona of having been idyllic before the pandemic. Forgotten are the discipline issues, bullying, lack of substitute teachers, and classes that failed to evoke engagement. In their place are images of joyful children warmly welcoming each other while moving through the halls with a smile to a class where they would be both challenged and engaged throughout. Like my perception of my summer employment, the negative feelings have receded and all that remains are positive.

When school buildings reopen, those memories will come forth again. We will be reminded that along with the return of students and teachers, will be the return of past issues. We still need to re-engage in conversations about the discipline issue. Teacher attrition will continue to be a challenge, along with finding substitutes to ensure that all buildings are completely staffed. We’ll have to reevaluate the physical state of our buildings, many have been neglected for way too long.

Alcoholics like to believe if they get a new job, or a new relationship, they will suddenly find clarity. AA has advice for that enclosed in a simple statement, “Where ever you go, there you are.”

It serves to remind those in recovery that a shift in location does not equal a solution. Unless you address the actual issues, all they are doing is moving around.

That holds true for public education as well, whether instruction takes place in a building or via a computer screen, the issues remain. We are in a rush to shift the tough issues facing schools out of our living rooms, and back into separate buildings, where in the past they were easy to ignore. Hopefully, as school buildings re-open, our new sense of awareness won’t get left at the door.

Now more than ever, we are acutely aware of the challenges facing teachers and students. For me that means that the central question isn’t, whether schools should re-open in person or not, but whether or not we are going to take our newfound awareness and use it to forge a public education system that does a better job of serving all kids? That jury is still out.

WHOSE RESPONSIBILITY IS IT?

I’ve never seen a school board candidate secure a seat by promising their constituents to ask fewer questions. Nobody has ever gone into the voting booth and cast a vote for the person that promises to do the least to hold the superintendent accountable. No election has ever been won by a candidate who promised to make things less transparent. When citizens go to polling stations they don’t cast a vote for the candidate that will protect the interests of the Director of Schools, but rather for who will protect the interests of the district families, students, and teachers.

It is overstated that the school board is only responsible for one employee – the director. Maybe, but the actions of that one employee have a profound impact on the success of both teachers and students, and thus the lens in which their performance is viewed must remain wide.

I’m at a loss how you protect stakeholder interests without knowing exactly what’s going on in schools. It seems to me that what’s being taught, and how, would be central to evaluating the performance of any director. It also seems to me that to accurately evaluate outcomes, you’d need some information independent of that supplied by the director. At my jobs over the years, I’ve asked to be evaluated only based on the information I presented, and the idea never got much traction. The same should hold true with the Director of Schools as well.

Lately, I have witnessed a school of thought develop that proposes asking questions and support are two independent processes. Somebody needs to share that with my wife because she questions me all the time, but I never doubt her support. Sometimes those questions lead to deeper thought and in turn, better decisions. When you have to defend your beliefs and actions, I believe – if they are the right beliefs and actions – the process will only make them stronger.

Unfortunately, there are school board members that do not share that belief.

Last Friday, newly elected board member, and Teaching and Learning Committee Chair, Abigail Tylor held a committee meeting to get a better understanding of the district’s literacy plan. Part of the reason for the meeting was because some of the assertions Chief of Schools Mason Bellemy was making at board meetings – small group instruction, fidelity to FVS curriculum, Balanced Literacy – was not lining up with anecdotal stories coming out of schools.

Tylor calling a meeting to address the subject was cause for celebration in my eyes. To often in the past information coming out of schools was often ignored out of fear of offending the director. Tylor seems dedicated to putting that sacred cow out to pasture, a welcome move.

It is worth noting that Abigail Tylor is an educator herself, having spent 13 years in the classroom. Talk to any teacher who has watched a board meeting, and most will tell you that she knows what she is talking about and has proven especially deft at asking the right questions. This is someone knowledgeable, skilled, and experienced. Not someone out trying to make a name for themselves by going out on a white elephant hunt.

Unfortunately, it appears the administration, and some of her fellow board members, don’t share the same level of respect for her as that extended by her peers.

The presentation by the Director of Schools Dr. Bellamy and his team was at best rote. In presenting the information, which was more an overview of the literacy plan than a detailed explanation, Elementary Literacy Director Aliya Washington spoke in measured tones that seemed designed to run out the clock and thus limit time for questioning. Washington is respected by her literacy coaches, but I’ve always been troubled by how she balances her personal views with her professional responsibilities.

In observing Ms. Washington, a picture emerges of her as a proponent of the “Science of Reading” – a strategy that places emphasis on foundational skills and phonics over all other aspects.  A philosophy that runs counter to the district’s pursuit of a “Balanced Literacy” approach – which focuses on tailoring instruction to the individual child while including phonics and foundational skills. The reality is that little of what MNPS is doing actually aligns with a balanced literacy approach. For this Washington holds culpability.

The impetus for Fridays’ meeting sprung forth when Tylor recently asked how the newly adopted Wit and Wisdom materials, the recently added state developed foundational skills supplements, and the adopted Florida Virtual School curriculum aligned to a balanced literacy approach. The true answer is, they don’t. That was not the answer given. Hence a need for the committee meeting.

Washington’s presentation was long on proposed ideas but short on evidence supporting that what she was describing was actually transpiring. Saying people have been trained does not mean they actually have.

Midway through the meeting, board members Gini Pupo-Walker and Sharon Gentry took the opportunity to chastise fellow board members about stepping outside of their purview as elected officials. It’s worth noting that Pupo-Walker has faced a recent recall notice from her constituents and student outcomes for Gentry’s district have steadily declined over her tenure as a board member. Are these really the people who should be lecturing others about their responsibilities? Kinda like Marcus Mariotta lecturing his fellow QBs on how to be a proper NFL quarterback. Win a few games, then we’ll talk.

At one point, it was put to MNPS’s Director of Board Relations David Sevier to clarify the role of a school board member. Amazingly, Sevier just happened to have the pertinent policy information handy, even though this was a teaching and learning committee meeting and not a policy one. As such any comments should have limited to teaching and learning,

First off, when it comes to Sevier, the only question he, and his counterpart Director of Government Relations Mark North, are qualified to advise on is, how to maintain a 6 figure salary with a minimum contribution. Both are paid comparably with principals, with none of the responsibility that goes with the salary, nor the long hours. Quick, name me an initiative that either has led that produced results. That may seem a little harsh, but if you’ve got counter-evidence, please share.

If Sevier, wants to prove his value, he can start by helping board members get accurate information, instead of aiding in obstructing a legitimate pursuit of understanding. Interestingly enough, the budget in the past included funding for an ombudsman. Someone who actually works to get an accurate picture of what’s actually happening once board policy gets passed. Now that is a position worth six figures as opposed to one whose sole responsibility seems to be managing 9 elected school board members to the benefit of the director.

Secondly, board responsibilities are ultimately decided by voters. If they are unhappy with the way their board member is representing them, they have the means to voice that displeasure. It’s not the job of fellow board members to police their peers. Furthermore, it’s not the job of board members to dictate to members of equal standing on how they should conduct the committee meetings they are charged with leading. The hubris is appalling, but not surprising. Power often tries to protect its own interests.

Board meetings have already become less transparent and now we are seeing the signs of expectations for committee meetings to limit their scope as well. That’s not a recipe for success and hopefully, board members will readily kowtow. I can name at least three members who I’m pretty sure won’t be content to sit and bob their head.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that MNPS’s current strategic plan, along with it’s its key performance indicators, were developed with a director of schools whose contract was not extended and was in fact, terminated. I know that some have a hard time acknowledging that, but the truth remains, were he and his policies effective, he’d still be employed by MNPS. They weren’t and he is not.

In that light, it might behoove board members to revisit both the strategic plan and its KPIs, along with the district’s mission and vision statement to give more input from the current occupant of the position. After all, Dr. Battle is leading, so she should be caring for her own tablets instead of the Moses before her. You know, as long as Dr. Sevier thinks that’s appropriate.

QUICK HITS

Today’s MNPS COVID-19 risk factor evaluation tool has the district scoring a 9.7 out of 10. Remember we need a 7 to consider opening schools.

The learning loss drum beat continues unabated. Keep in mind it is a narrative fueled by assessments established before the pandemic. So my question is, when will assessments be introduced that measure student outcomes not measured before the pandemic? You know stuff like growth in technical knowledge, student improvement in time management skills, student improvement in self-advocacy, growth in other areas of self-motivation, and students’ increased ability to problem-solve. Or are those skills not essential to making kids career and college ready?

This article was written back in October – Analysis: 7 Ways American Education Could Change Forever After COVIDI feel like I’ve been saying much of it since the summer.

If you’ve ever even talked to a politician, then you’ve probably met Phylis Williams. For decades Williams has been a tireless supporter of the political class in Nashville. You will meet few in this world who carry themselves with more grace than she. Unfortunately, she has contracted COVID-19 and facing a hard fight right now. Prayers would be welcome. She’s another one of those people who make Nashville, Nashville.

POLL NUMBERS

Let’s take a quick look at the poll questions from the weekend. First up, do you think it’s appropriate to do MAP testing starting the first 4 days after kids return in January? 72% answered, of course not, with another 9% answering, do you even have to ask. Only 3 of you expressed concern over learning loss. Here are the write-ins,

  • Complete waste of student and teacher time!
  • Shouldn’t be testing AT ALL!
  • Map this year is a joke.
  • Is MAP testing as administered by MNPS ever appropriate??
  • A ridiculous notion perpetuated by adults that have not been in schools for a year

The next question asked if you thought MNPS would open school buildings come January 7th. With cases climbing higher, it doesn’t seem likely, but I wanted to know your thoughts. 42% of you say, not a chance in hell. While 39%, don’t believe it is likely, but you never know. Only 1 of you was praying that school buildings would open. Thank you Governor Lee for participating. Here are the write-ins,

  • Just coming break from break with travel, it would be stupid and unsafe
  • Hope not

The last question asked, for your opinion of Nashville’s teacher union – MNEA. It seems like their efforts are appreciated, with 43% of you indicating such. 19% conceded they do mostly good work, but you wished they would narrow focus. 14% of you expressed negative views. Here are those write-ins,

  • Need to address hours teachers are really working. Teachers are working way too much
  • Trying to be relevant after Huth killed it
  • Mostly good
  • Mostly useless, but trying to improve.

That’s it for now.

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. Now more than ever your continued support is vital.

If you wish 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.

 

 



Categories: Education

3 replies

  1. Hello –
    Because I am usually in 98% agreement with your opinions, especially related to TDOE, I am confused by your statements about the role of a school board member. In Tennessee, the role and appropriate actions of an elected local board member are very clearly defined by TSBA. High on the “appropriate” list is to act in the best interest of all students, and to be free of a personal agenda. Voters certainly have the power to choose their members, but not to define their role. It’s completely possible that I have misunderstood your column today. If so, I apologize. Robbie Mitchell

    • I appreciate the kind words. You didn’t miss read me. Yes, ultimately TSBA defines the role but how a board acts with in that definition is ultimately decided by the voters. Local control is extremely important in TN.

  2. That was a hood one TC / thanks!!

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

Leave a Reply to TC Weber Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: