“Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
Things are bad in Tennessee in relation to COVID-19. Case rates are the highest in the country, and open hospital beds are becoming scarce. As Christmas approaches, fears are ratcheting up for another after the holiday explosion. Especially as many schools are scheduled to re-open for in-person learning the first week in January.
The danger of the current circumstances was highlighted for Governor Lee when his wife was diagnosed with the Coronavirus at the end of the week. In response, a news conference for Sunday at 7 pm was hastily scheduled, with the announcement that local TV stations would carry his words. Speculation ran rampant on what the Governor would say. Some thought he might go as far as to institute a statewide mask mandate, something he’d previously been resistant to instituting.
Sunday, 7 pm arrived, and with it came a mad scramble to find the Governors speech. It wasn’t on any of the stations as advertised, and if you took longer than 8 minutes to find it on an alternative source, you missed it.
What you missed remains unclear because the Governor managed to address a crisis without offering any clear direction. There were a lot of suggestions, and a few warnings, but no mandates. In essence, a request was entered, that if Tennesseans planned on any social gathering, perhaps they’d be kind enough to limit them to 10 people unless they were funerals, weddings, church services, or … not social events.
Nearly a third of Executive Order 70 is devoted to sporting events, with nary a mention about schools, bars, restaurants, or constructions sites – all of whom would welcome, and arguably require clearer guidance. Mind you, I’m not favoring one set of mandates over another, but if you are going to promise something of substance, offer something of substance. Hell, he quoted Churchill, that alone raises the bar. Per usual with Lee and his team, we are left to debate the quality of action as opposed to the actual policy. Something that has come to define the Lee administration.
It’s worth noting that the Governors speech came several hours after the Titan’s played a home game with upwards of 15K fans in attendance. Let’s not forget, next week the city is hosting the Music City Bowl.
While I’m admittedly, reticent about a statewide mandate for masks – yes you can be pro-mask and tepid on a government mandate – the numbers that Lee threw out made me reconsider. If 70% of the state are already under a local mandate, and 80% of the state are already adhering to mask rules, why the bowing to the minority. Why protect the 8 people in the corner? Just say it and be done with it. Does he really believe that if he makes a mandate, some of those currently following the guidelines will rip off their masks in open rebellion?
I’d also suggest, that if those numbers are accurate, Tennessee might need a little bit more than a mask mandate and some social distancing. As reported by Center Square,
Tennessee has the highest average of daily cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state surpassed more than 6,000 COVID-19 deaths over the weekend. The Tennessee Department of Health (TDOH) reported the percent of positive tests Saturday was a record 30.46%.
That’s quite an accomplishment for just 20% of the state’s population.
The thing that I’m more fascinated with is, what happens behind the scenes. I’m assuming that there were several meetings held prior, to devise the strategy and wording of Lee’s speech. Wasn’t anybody struck by the inadequacies of this response? Or did everybody sign-on?
Did Blake Harris his Chief of Staff, read the speech and say, “Perfect. Way to thread the needle on Government and free will. People will love this.”
Did his Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn take a look at it and say, “Nicely done. Don’t offer any guidance on schools, nobody’s interested in that. We already put those rumors about closing schools to bed. This here speech is a shining example of leadership.”
Did House Speaker Sexton – with thoughts of launching his own run for governor – tell Lee, “Hell yeah, this what people are looking for! Put it out, I’ll back you.”
Lee’s got a paid spokesperson in Victoria Robinson, did she view this as adequate communication in the midst of a growing crisis. Maybe she didn’t get a chance to read it because she was only charged with finding the Churchill quote. It was a good quote. Though a more appropriate quote probably would have been, “Never hold discussions with the monkey when the organ grinder is in the room.”
What about after the speech? Were there high fives around the room? Did people head to their homes satisfied that they’d done the right thing? Or did any of them think to themselves, “We really screwed the pooch on that one.”? If they weren’t, thinking the latter, they should have been.
It has long been my belief that the quality of leadership is revealed by the people a leader surrounds themselves with. Between several high profile resignations and current moves by Governor Lee, I don’t think anybody can put forth the argument that he’s surrounding himself with a high-quality team focused on the citizens of Tennessee. My father used to have a plaque on the wall that read, “You can’t fly with the eagles if you surround yourself with turkeys.” Governor Lee seems to fancy himself as some kind of turkey farmer.
In summary, a self-proclaimed higher-ed geek with a sense of humor, Paul Chenoweth, offers the best translation of Governor Lee’s speech,
“…the governor is strongly suggesting that people take into consideration the crisis at-hand and furthermore consider taking optional steps that might inconvenience some and/or impact others financially without causing any unnecessary political turmoil/risk.”
Truth is, that may equally apply to the Governors theory as well. Thank you, Paul.
DOUBLE DIPPING IN STYLE
Speaking of cabinet members, let’s talk a little more about that Commissioner of Education, Penny Schwinn. If you’ll remember, earlier this year I told you about how she was pulling a salary from both the charter school in California that she founded and, at different times, the education departments of both Delaware and Texas. Keep in mind, that her school is almost entirely funded by taxpayer money and is dedicated to serving a high needs population.
Penny swears up and down that the double-dipping stopped once she took over the TDOE. Upon request, her charter school, Capitol Collegiate, produced a resignation letter from Ms. Schwinn that called for a wrap up of her employment by February first. Worth noting, Capitol Collegiate could produce the resignation letter, just not the email it was attached to or the original, but hey, there has already been ample evidence of sloppy bookkeeping, so who’s surprised?
This week while looking at tax returns, I noticed that the IRS had posted CCA’s 990’s for 2020, covering July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019. Interestingly enough, despite being employed in Texas as the Deputy Commissioner of Academic and resigning from CCA in January, the school paid her $70K. Pretty impressive, especially when you consider that per the IRS documents, and contrary to her resignation letter which claims 30-40 hours a week on nights and weekends, she only worked 2 hours a week.
More important than her double-dipping, is the incongruity of her history. Take any aspect of her public narrative and you quickly find two or three incongruencies elsewhere. Unfortunately, many of those incongruencies are contained in what is supposed to be considered official documents beyond reproach.
But like I said earlier, the longer Governor Lee remains in office, the more Schwinn’s alternative histories come into resolution as patterns of acceptable behavior and less as outliers. And that’s to the detriment of all Tennesseans.
THE STATE DOESN’T HAVE THE MARKET CORNERED ON EMPTY GESTURES
On Friday, MNPS principals received an email from the head of HR Chris Barnes outlining the latest initiative by the district’s leadership team. To be fair, Barnes has been a welcome addition to the HR team and has produced positive results during his brief tenure. Still this latest proposal, once again, has me wondering what the meeting before its release looked like.
Out of recognition of schools needing increased support during the ongoing pandemic, Central Office administrators will be required next semester to spend one day a week in an assigned school building performing jobs assigned by the principal. My initial thought upon reading was that this was a means to spy on principals, but I’ve sat with it for a while and now believe it was born out of good intentions without thorough vetting.
I’m sure the intention is to lessen the work of principals, but who’s going to train the central office folks? Who’s going to instill the school’s culture? Who’s going to even point out where things are located in different parts of the building? Invariably, this will be the principal or other member of the building leadership team that likely already has enough responsibility.
During the one day a week, they are assigned to a school, who will be performing the Central Office administrator’s job? If they don’t have enough work and can afford to miss a day, perhaps the district would be better serviced by ensuring that all roles are necessary instead of finding extra work for people. what about those Central Office workers that are already over-extended? Some of them are working their ass off as well, this initiative assumes that everyone in an administrative role has capacity.
The new memo says that serving schools is the primary goal, but isn’t that what Central Office is already supposed to be doing? For example, take the EL services director, how are they better-serving schools by helping to stuff failing notices in envelopes, as opposed to helping schools design their WIDA testing plans? That’s just an example, but the bottom line remains, do we need the head of accounting watching the lunch line, or do we need them focusing on counting the beans? I’d say the latter, but what do I know.
Many of the Central Office positions covered under this proposed initiative are ones held by people making six-figure salaries. Do we need people earning those salaries calling absent students, or delivering the specialized services for which they are compensated? The former does not sound like a sound use of resources to me.
In the email, one of the jobs listed that could be performed by a Central Office person is “Shadow home visits (stay in their own car, but be able to see the employee and parent-student/outside)”.
Raise your hand if you don’t readily see the issue here. It’s fucking creepy. I can see it now. My kid’s teacher knocks at the door. When answering, I happy to see them, but then over their shoulder, I notice an unfamiliar car with a stranger sitting in it. The stranger seems to be watching us, “Beatrice”, I say, “Did you notice that car over there with the person in it? Was it there when you pulled in?”
She turns, looks, and responds, “Oh that’s Mason. Pay him no mind, he’s the head of schools for MNPS. He’s just here to observe me for the day. Great isn’t it?”
I’d have a whole lot more questions. The fact that this one made it past review to print, gives me concern. Especially in light of the district’s ongoing Navigator problem.
Personally, it would seem to me that most of these Central Office folks should already be readily in schools. If not, making up menial jobs instead of encouraging the development of meaningful relationships and cooperation, isn’t the solution. This one, while maybe well-intentioned, should never have made it out of committee. Over the last month, there has been a lot of talk about the essential role of advisory committees. I’d love to know how this one was received in the principal advisory committee.
In this season of discussion about the administrating of the standardized test next year, I assign everybody to read this one from Alfie Kohn, The Tests are Lousy, So How Can the Results Be Meaningful? In it, he raises the question, “In short, am I really so addicted to data that I prefer misleading information to none at all?”
I gotta tell you, their record isn’t a winning one, but I love this senior class at Penn State. Probably among my favorites ever. Thanks, guys for a great season.
It’s been well covered that state departments of education still have monies that have not been allocated. If not spent by January 1, the money has to be returned. Therein lies part of the problem. Guidelines from the US Department of Education were late in arriving, and not very clear, putting DOEs at a disadvantage. There is some fear that in an effort to spend that money instead of returning it, states will spend money in a less than prudent manner. Luckily, the newly agreed-upon stimulus package extends the deadlines out. Along with the deadline delay, hopefully, a new Secretary of Education will loosen up and clarify guidelines as well.
MNPS’s Optional Schools Application process will begin on January 25. The yearly Optional Schools Application allows families to choose among open-enrollment schools, in addition to their zoned schools.
Hey! Hey! MNPS’s COVID-19 tracker shows a drop of .1. We are now 9.9, instead of 10.
The losses for Nashville continue to mount. The latest is Civil Rights leader and former Metro Councilman Kwame Leo Lillard who died Sunday at the age of 81. Senator Gilmore offered this heartfelt memorial to her friend,
“A street fighter for justice and the founder of the African Street Festival, Lillard fought tirelessly for the causes of justice and equality in Nashville. It was an honor and a privilege to work with him over the years to stand up for what is right for this community. Our city is a better place as result of his advocacy and leadership. With his passing, we must all remain dedicated to carrying on the work of his life: of confronting injustice everywhere it exists. I join in sending my deepest sympathies to his family.”
His loss will be deeply felt by many.
That’s it for now.
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Thank you and have a Merry Christmas!