“So many Americans felt that their neighbor had no right to know more than they did.”
Last Friday was the first in at least 5 years that I didn’t write. Adulting got in the way. Between finishing the school year, closing on a refinance, and buying a new car – I needed a break. So I took one.
Because I didn’t write, didn’t mean I didn’t think. Two separate events consumed my thoughts over the weekend. The first, an episode that I watched of the new series from the Cradle to the Stage based on the book written by drummer Dave Grohl’s mother. The show is a fascinating look at the childhood of people who took unique paths to success, providing plenty of fodder for thought.
The second is last week’s MNPS School Board meeting, a trainwreck that gives trainwrecks a bad name. But more about that in a bit, first let’s look at the show.
The episode I watched focused on Dave Grohl and Pharell Williams. Both were raised by mothers that were and still are public school teachers. The other commonality they share is that neither were good students. Neither were well served by schools.
In reflection, Virginia Grohl reveals how she strove to instill a love of learning in her son – something he still retains -while coming to the realization that our schools are set up to best serve one kind of student, and Dave wasn’t one of those.
Later in the episode, they cruise by the drummer’s old high school and the principal comes out to see what’s going on. When he realizes who his visitor is, he immediately begins to fawn over the accomplished musician. His mother remains in the car. When Dave gets in, she explains that the irony was all a bit much for her. Watching the principal, who is relatively new, heap praise on someone who was basically dismissed by everyone at the school while attending, is a bit much for her to stomach.
Grohl goes on to tell the story about how his family and the principal, along with the guidance counselor, all met together when he was 17 to discuss his leaving school to tour Europe with his band. He dropped out and headed to Europe. It was a decision that didn’t sit well with Virginia’s peers, but ultimately has proven to be the right one.
All of this is extremely relevant as plans are now being formed for the next school year. There is a rush to recreate what existed prior to the pandemic, despite ample evidence that not all students were adequately served by the previous model. Remote instruction is abandoned amid declarations that all students benefited from past practices. There is little stomach to alter past practice or incorporate what was learned during the pandemic year.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those declaring that schools are devoid of innovation. I believe that teachers and principals attempt to be as innovative as possible, but are often limited due to district leadership and politicians. ironically, the same people that are free of the level of accountability demanded of teachers and principals. The slim details that are emerging on next year’s strategy bear that out.
I can’t help but wonder if a system of accountability touted as means to ensure that every child is being served, hasn’t in reality had the opposite effect. In our rush to measure, sans a deep inventory, have we actually created what we wished to avoid? A system that leads some students underserved. Civics instruction has fallen by the wayside, as have lessons in social studies and the arts. All victims of the rush to accountability and a commitment to measuring the wrong things. Arguably to the detriment of us all.
How many other students didn’t have the whereof all of a Williams or Grohl, and just dropped out? How many failed to have their potential unleashed due to our failure to engage? How many lives could have been different had we put s much emphasis on student needs as we do adult needs? Lord help us if we ever find out.
We argue endlessly about charter vs public school. Both sides rolling out horror stories of the other. Our arguments have now reached into the classroom, including what to teach and how to teach it. Meanwhile, nobody ever considers the dilemma we are putting before parents. The dilemma of being part of a system or best serving our children.
What if I have a student that is not being served by the local school and there is an option available that might meet their needs? Who do I owe my allegiance to – the system that is arguably underserving them or my child herself.
When my daughter was in early elementary she came home and expressed to me that she wished she wasn’t White. Being White to her at the time was boring and had a monochromatic history. What level of discomfort is permissible for a young child? Are we truly serving equity if we are just replacing the discomfort of one child with that of another?
My daughter and I talked through it over the year and now she has a little more balance, but am I wrong to raise questions and ask for a deeper examination of what’s being presented to her? I feel these are legitimate questions that oft go unacknowledged, let alone unanswered.
The argument over public education has quickly denigrated to one of being either pro or anti-public schools. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Especially at a time when society itself is undergoing profound change.
Peter Greene wrote a piece last week that attempted to delve into the role of parents in deciding what and how schools teach. He raises some salient points,
One is that the promise is a lie. To parents who dream of being able to choose a school that delivers the exact product they want for their child, I invite you to look around and show me any consumer good that works that way. The next time you walk into Walmart, find a manager and tell him exactly the product and features you want to see on his shelves and insist that he get it for you right away. Go to McDonald’s, and if you can still find a human working there, explain to them exactly how you want your burger and your fries prepared, and see how that works. “You will be able to have it your way,” is a lie told to open the market. Once the market is open, all bets are off.
The other is more fundamental. When folks demand that students not be taught any of that controversial stuff, what they’re saying is “I don’t want my child’s education to go any further than my own. My child should only learn the things I know.”
I don’t disagree, but again, it’s not necessarily that simple. I’m not sure that I am as comfortable as Greene with turning over the complete development of my kids to the state. Does that make either of us wrong? I don’t think so, but if public schools are to remain truly public we have to focus on our intersections and not our difference. Else, public schools will remain such in funding source only, as more and more families seek alternatives that resonate more with personal beliefs.
We all have certain levels of compromise we are comfortable with, but it begins with acknowledging differences of opinion and not shaming those who hold different views. This is a problem more for adults than children. My son is currently running around the neighborhood with a black child and two Muslim boys. Clear evidence that he focuses more on the similarities than the differences.
An amusing side note. One of my son’s friends is named Ali. In listening to the boys, and the way they pronounce it, I thought his name was “Ollie”. We all learn, we all grow.
We often talk of the world we wish to leave for our children. Ideally, it will be a combination of the best of the past mixed with the innovation brought forth by the next generation, shaped by the knowledge of the present. Schools serve as a laboratory for the future. With society reflecting what is created in school buildings. It’s why billionaires routinely break out the checkbooks and invest heavily. It’s not out of a sense of civic duty, but rather a desire to shape a future that remains beneficial to their offspring.
As much as I disagree with their vision, I can’t fault their motivation. It’s all any of us really want. A world that sets our offspring up to prosper.
We like to believe that as a species we have evolved to a point past basic human instincts, but at the end of the day, we share the same basic motivations as our forefathers. Be it a village built in the midst of land with fertile soil or ensuring that our kids have all the tools to take advantage of the opportunities of the present, much of what we do comes down to ensuring that our progeny fare better than us.
How to balance that intrinsic desire with ensuring equal opportunity for all is the million-dollar quest. I don’t have the answer to exactly how we successfully complete such a task, but I know it won’t come through the insistence that there is only one way to do things – be it content or the delivery method. I know it won’t come without rigorous honesty, and a willingness to face our discomfort. I know it won’t come through adults more committed to revenue streams than students. And I know it won’t come through the endless repetition of past practices.
It seems we all have a great idea of what won’t work while we limit the examination of things that might unlock more doors for more kids. Like I’ve said in the past, we have to stop playing to not lose, and start playing to
Greene closes with a statement that aptly sums up the challenges society currently faces, but in a broader sense than I suspect he intends,
For education and learning and collective wisdom and depth to grow, children will have to learn things their parents didn’t know. That may seem like a statement of the obvious, but clearly to some folks right now it’s not obvious at all.
I would argue that statement holds true not just for the obvious suspects, but rather for all of us. Luckily, it seems to be transpiring with or without our cooperation. And that too is consistent with the past.
I urge you to watch Cradle to the Stage. I think you’ll find even more to ponder. Till then I leave you with the words of Kanye West,
I’m living’ in that 21st century
Doing something mean to it
Do it better than anybody you ever seen do it
Screams from the haters, got a nice ring to it
I guess every superhero need his theme music
MNPS BUDGET OPERATIONS
Last week was another MNPS school board meeting and once again we saw ineffectiveness on proud display. The meeting started with the approval of a budget in which discussion was limited and whose authorship remains in question – the mayor’s office or district leadership. It’s an unprecedented budget, topping 1 billion dollars for the first time ever.
Quibbling over the penmanship may seem like an academic exercise, after all this year’s budget is extremely favorable to the district, but crafting the budget is an integral part of overseeing and governing the district. Nashville’s founding charter is very clear on who is responsible for governing schools and the role to be played by city officials. If this budget was indeed crafted by city officials, then it signifies a dramatic altering of the city’s charter, something that shouldn’t be done without the express approval of Nashville’s citizens.
But here we are, despite Mayor Cooper, announcing teacher raises before a request from the board, there is little talk of budget control. Per the Tennessean, teacher salaries aren’t the only place where the Mayor weighed in,
Cooper also committed $2.5 million to help the district fund social and emotional learning initiatives, including the launch of new advocacy centers in dozens of elementary schools.
A worthy investment, but who decided it should take precedent over-improving virtual schooling options? The paper goes on to quote At-large Council member Zulfat Suara,
“Social-emotional learning is big for me and with the year that we had, I want to make sure that we are looking at the things that were not pulled out of that aspirational budget,” Suara said, “I’m looking at the trauma that all our the children have had to go through this past year and even before COVID, [so] for me, making sure that this is an area that is fully funded, that is a personal goal of mine.”
That’s admirable, but why is she establishing personal goals for an entity beyond her purview. I’m not so she would be as amiable towards school board members publicly listing goals for city policy. Historically CM’s have taken umbrage at such occasions.
I think it’s worth noting that other than a perfunctory quote from school board member and budget chair Frida Player-Peters – “It’s the first time in history where funding of our schools is at just over a billion dollars, With this budget, we can continue our continuity of services without any interruptions and will not have to make any reductions. – no other board members are quoted, while quotes are provided from 3 council members. If walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…
Again this may seem like quibbling, but in the future, the vision between city leaders and school leaders may not be so closely aligned. I would argue that had former Mayor Karl Dean been granted this level of input, Nashville Schools would more closely resemble New Orleans instead of how it exists today. Once the precedent is set, it can’t be rescinded.
I hope I’m wrong because if I’m not, this MNPS school board has seriously impacted the ability of future school boards to effectively govern the district. That shouldn’t be taken lightly.
A QUESTION OF PROFESSIONALISM
The more things change, the more they stay the same. MNPS’s office of school security has long been plagued by charges of sexual harassment, discrimination, and mismanagement. It’s a situation that has been in arrears for at least 5 years. Under previous school superintendent Shawn Joseph, the district’s head of security was forced to retire early due to charges of impropriety. Amid the crisis, it was revealed that the human relations department was itself misbehaving badly. Over Joseph’s protestations, the board commissioned an outside study that confirmed many of those accusations and provided several recommendations.
Here we are 2 years removed and all that has apparently been forgotten. Once again, the security department is mired in controversy. And once again, the superintendent is proclaiming that the HR department is above reproach. Supposedly filled with competent and professional people, and an external investigation would only undermine that professionalism. All eerily familiar.The only difference being, this time the board sides with the superintendent.
Ironically, Board member Sharon Gentry characterized the motion to hire an external investigator as a signal that board members weren’t satisfied with Battle and her team’s efforts. It’s worth noting that Gentry tried to use the same argument in an effort to shield Dr. from an outside look. And let’s not forget how that entered.
MNPS’s school board has a long history of being unwilling to actually examine what’s going on in the district it’s charged with overseeing, and a propensity to bury their collective heads in the sand. Back in the days of Pedro Garcia, they refused to question the director reports until the state was poised to take over the district. At which point, they all cried, “We never knew.”
Nobody learned from that occasion and history repeated itself under Dr. Joseph. Circumstances that resulted in several million dollars of lawsuits could have been prevented had board members taken a trust but verify position earlier. Only after the horses were out of the barn and eating the town’s flowers was there an effort to close the barn doors. And here we go again.
Board member Fran Bush felt that on the heels of the last outside evaluation, and with continuing complaints coming from security officers, a follow-up outside evaluation was warranted. She stated such on the board floor, but no one else agreed with her, and I can’t understand why?
The last outside audit was not flattering and contained several recommendations. Recommendations that may or may not have been implemented. That’s something that an outside audit would confirm. If Dr. Battle truly has the highly qualified professionals operating the HR department that she claims, an outside audit would just serve to confirm that. Nothing would shut Bush up quicker than an outside party confirming HR practices. And in watching the director and other board members at meetings, don’t think that is not an objective.
Instead, we are left with Battle reading a “he said, she said” proclamation, a statement that resolves nothing. In the past funding could be cited as a reason not to engage an outside entity, but considering that MNPS now has over $400 million at its disposal, I don’t think that holds much water.
The last 6 months have revealed an administration that is willing to break its own elbows in order to pat itself on the pack. They seem to be better at self-promotion than they are at producing results. I cite the COVID monitors and the new student dashboard as evidence of overpromising and under-delivering. So none of this should come as a surprise, they certainly have no desire to puncture the carefully crafted bubble of illusion.
In that light, I offer this anecdote. This past weekend I worked with a very good bartender. How did I know she was good? She never told me of her past accomplishments? She didn’t repeatedly recite her resume, or tell me where she used to work? She didn’t try to impress me with her usage of insider industry jargon. She just showed up on time and did the job. It didn’t take me long to recognize her skills.
It wouldn’t hurt MNPS to emulate her approach a little bit more. If Dr. Battle is truly convinced that she has employed a world-class team, open the doors and let anyone who wants to, look. When you start trying to shield yourself from inquiry, you only succeed in fostering distrust. You’d think that out of all places, education leaders would actually learn from the past – that is the business they are in, right? Yet here we go again for another ride on the tilt a whirl.
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
Earlier I spoke of precedent, well this past week precedent was set that if I show up with a small group of protesters, MNPS will immediately adjourn its meeting. In one of the most bizarre instances I have witnessed, that’s exactly what happens this week. Strangely, in a town teeming with education reporters, not a one thought this was worthy of discussion. Even when a board member joined the protestors outside to continue protesting the entity he helps govern.
Watch the video of Tuesday’s board meeting and you’ll witness that after a self-congratulatory video presented by Dr. Battle, a handful of members from the parent advocacy group PROPEL begin to chant, “PLP, PLP”. This is in reference that to the group’s demand that MNPS create a personalized learning plan for every student.
Within minutes of the chanting beginning, board chair Christiane Buggs calls a 5-minute recess. Board members gather their stuff and begin leaving. Board member John Little joins the protestors in chanting, “PLP” and like that the meeting ends. To see more, I urge you to watch the video created by PROPEL and posted on their Facebook page. Unbelievable.
Maybe proponents of mayoral control are right. Maybe an elected board is incapable of governing an entity as complex as a school district. Last week’s meeting certainly offered no evidence to the contrary.
In a couple of months, a new chair will be selected to lead for the 2021/2022 school year. Hopefully, this next go around, it will be one familiar with parliamentary procedure who is capable of controlling a meeting and is unbeholden to city hall, or other outside entities. That might be too tall an order, but even a leader who possessed one of the aforementioned qualities would be an improvement.
I’d also ask yourself if security guards were indeed satisfied with board action in regard to their complaints as put forth by several board members, why were they not assisting in getting the room under control? If. as Chair Buggs publically claimed, the pay was the primary complaint and the board had addressed that issue, where was the aid in control. Or was this a confirmation of what Bush had been saying,m issues ran deeper than just pay? Hopefully, Dr. Battle and company are asking those very questions right now.
Summer school starts next week and while we know the number of current enrollments and teacher placements, what I’d like to know is how many initially signed up and have since changed their mind. I suspect that number is higher than we should be comfortable with.
I’ve got a kind of mixed relationship with the Education Co-op. When they get involved in politics, we often have opposing views. But when it comes to supporting teachers, they are unrivaled. Over the coming weeks, they will be releasing a series of upcoming releases addressing the impact of the work of The Educators’ Cooperative in classrooms, schools, and systems which were often overwhelmed and underprepared to serve educators in the ways they needed to thrive this year. (For Immediate Release – EdCo Teacher Support – Essential, Effective, Exemplary) I’d recommend you read them.
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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