LIVING IN THE LAND OF CONFUSION

“Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.”
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

A position on the local school board has always been a mixed bag. It is one that comes with little power or prestige, but plenty of vitriol and headaches. Seldom is a school board member celebrated for their service, instead, they are routinely blasted for their shortcomings.

When I ran for school board, opponents were kind enough to share my arrest record from 20 years plus years, ago, Since then, I’ve had my personal finances entered as a public record as well. Such are the risks for all that who entertain thoughts of a seat.

A seat that many consider as little more than a cheerleader position. Often left out of big decisions, like whether to remain virtual or not, and who’s power is under constant threat of being usurped by both superintendents, and state and local elected officials. Despite this limited power, board members are often the scapegoats for unpopular policies.

Former MNPS school board member Jill Speering was branded a racist and had her whole life placed under a microscope because she dared questioned the failings of then-Superintendent Shawn Joseph. An innocuous comment about wearing masks to a board meeting was treated as if she was calling the Klu Klux Klan to rally. Her comment might have been better worded, but it was clear the context in which it was meant. Despite a lifelong dedication to working with kids from all backgrounds but especially the most vulnerable, she was painted as persona non grata and subject to hateful comments. Kinda ironic because here we are once with masks at the forefront but in a completely different controversy, equally capable of evoking ire.

Another former MNPS board member, Mary Pierce, was labeled as a privileged wealthy white woman, who was using her so-called “privilege” to destroy public education and in the process create a world where only those like her prospered. Words, that might make great sound bites, but fail to hold up as we move away from the spotlight. Few may be aware of the tireless work she has done behind the scenes with underprivileged youths and how strongly she believes in the power of education for every kid.

I laugh as I see local pundits, and newspaper editors, writing glowing pieces equating school board members as superheroes for their actions in regard to the pandemic. Apparently their past positions of calling for these very same board members they praise today to concede power to the city’s mayor, or even in some cases resign has faded to the world of the microfiche. Don’t worry they’ll flip flop back the other way soon enough.

I don’t bring these instances forth in an effort to paint school board members as patron saints, some of them definitely earned the strong criticism they’ve garnered. Case in point, Gini Pupo-Walker is both an elected school board member and the executive director of the state chapter of Education Trust, a non-profit that advocates for their preferred education policy. Deeply funded by the gates organization, it begs the question, is she serving the Gates agenda or the MNPS agenda. Because the two are seldom aligned. Is this not the very definition of conflict of interest?

As head of the Governance Committee for the board, Walker meets with legislators with regularity. During those meetings, how much Ed Trust business spills into the conversation? I hear that Ms. Walker was a recent participant in the Tennessee Education Department-led meeting over the upcoming release of the state education report card. This meeting was exclusively for non-district employed stakeholders, and I assume that Walker was in attendance as a representative of Education Trust. If this is true, then was Ms. Walker not made privy to information that is not readily available to leadership in the state’s other LEA’s?

And to be fair, Ms. Walker is not the first or last, school board member to use their position to benefit them personally. Board Chair Christianne Buggs, a career math teacher, is employed by the United Way as their manager of literacy partnerships for their Blueprint of Early Childhood Success initiative. One that partners with MNPS. Shouldn’t that raise some eyebrows?

Long-time board member Sharon Gentry holds a position with the Arbinger Institute. A position she took after Shawn Joseph brought Arbinger to Nashville.What came first, the chicken or the egg?

Board member Frida Player-Peters has long ties to Nashville’s labor union. She has also been a long-term employee of the city government. How much of that comes into play when she’s helping craft policy for Nashville schools?

I think all of that is open for discussion. As long as the discussion centers around their actions, and not how we perceive them as people. It’s like we tell our children, I’m mad about your actions even though I love you as a person. I’m not saying you have to love your school board rep, but for god’s sake recognize them as a person. That goes for your neighbor as well.

It feels like that as of late, things have taken on a whole new level of hostility. Earlier in the month, a Williamson County School board meeting turned into a national punchline, when the crowd acted like they were at a Mexican soccer game, instead of a meeting held to consider the best ways to protect their children. How you make that leap is beyond me, but unfortunately, it was one made by all too many area residents.

Last week, MNPS school board member Emily Master introduced a proposed non-binding resolution in regard to recently passed legislation designed to monitor the teaching of race and gender in Tennessee’s classrooms. In the middle of reading the lengthy parchment, she pulled down her mask and innocently stated that it was hard to read all of this with a mask on. An observation that most any rational human being would concede and one that has been well recognized in conjunction with school mandatory masking policies.

Based on the response from those opposed to masks, you would think she proposed holding human sacrifices at the start of every school deal. Or had been caught red-handed tying damsels to railroad tressels. For the record, Ms. Master doesn’t even have possession of a twirly mustache. Everybody wants, and needs, a villain. Trust me, Masters aint it.

The ire directed at Ms. Masters was fast, furious, and beyond properly proportionate. Yes, masks are uncomfortable. Yes, we don’t fully understand the long term possible implications from prlonged masks wearing. But nobody on the school board is supporting the abuse of kids.

You can disagree with the proposal read by Ms. Master, Personally, I have questions around how we are approaching racial equity at this time and at best this is the right issue at absolutely the wrong time.

When there are so many more pressing needs in order to offer support to Nashville’s teachers and students, and the penalties for violating the law have yet to be codified, it doesn’t seem like this strikes the right balance in the cost/reward calculation.

MNPS is under serious threat from legislators and the TNDOE. Underestimate that threat at your own peril. MNPS rightfully refused to follow an executive order from the governor, and now, a mere two weeks later, is publically claiming an intent to not adhere to another state law. Is that really the best course of action?

I’ve said this in the past, over similar similar non-binding resolutions, but it bears repeating. If your stakeholders need a public statement of your support to believe that you have their backs, you haven’t built the right culture, nor have you done enough to regularly communicate your support. Sorry, but these resolutions hold little teeth, and as such, little value, save as a means for elected officials to virtue signal, that they are unnecessary.

Criticizing a board member’s actions should never be considered out of bounds. But as always, what you do is defined by how you do it. Other than in cases of mass genocide, the language hurled at Mrs.Masters is beyond unacceptable. It’s reprehensible and furthermore only serves to weaken any legitimate point you may have.

I get it. We are all scared. We are all frustrated. We are all uncertain. Those ingredients combine to make us all a little less rational in our behavior. But we are all in serious need of checking ourselves before we wreck ourselves.

The test I like to apply when considering if a response is acceptable, is to imagine my child or spouse reading or hearing my words, and asking myself could I justify them? Would my child understand why I called another adult a “fucking bitch” when I ask them to treat their classmates with kindness? Would my child be able to align their Sunday school lesson with me telling another adult to ‘jump in front of a bus”? Would my spouse be proud of me as a partner when I refer to a fellow person as a “racist bitch”.

For the life of me, I don’t understand how you type those words, reflect and hit send. maybe you could justify speaking them in a fit of uncontrolled rage, but typing and sending is a different story and speaks to deeper unsettled issues.

We have got to walk back from the edge. This is not a local problem. All across the country, an unreasonable level of anger is being directed at both school board members and school officials.

Last week I heard several anecdotal stories of AP’s being struck by parents over the required wearing of masks. I can assure you, that if you are striking another adult because of their upholding a mask mandate, you are absolutely exercising poor judgment and potentially doing more damage to your kids than a day of mask adherence might do.

But it’s not just parents exhibiting this god-awful judgment. Over the weekend, former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put out a Tweet comparing the anti-vax and anti-mask crowd to suicide bombers in Kabul…Jesus.

United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz had this to say about learning loss in a recent interview with Jason McGahan of Los Angeles Magazine. The piece is titled,Cecily Myart-Cruz’s Hostile Takeover of L.A.’s Public Schools.”

“There is no such thing as learning loss. Our kids didn’t lose anything. It’s OK that our babies may not have learned all their times tables. They learned resilience. They learned survival. They learned critical-thinking skills. They know the difference between a riot and a protest. They know the words insurrection and coup.”

Learning loss is indeed an adult construct with no current means of measurement, but neither her statement nor Duncan’s does anything but throw gasoline on a conflagration. Can somebody please go get the adults and bring them into the room?

There is no way to way to tp predict how long this pandemic will last, or how devastating it’ll become. I can promise you this, there will be more instances where we have to choose between two options that are both unappealing to us. There will be acquired actions we don’t like, but that is how life works. Nobody gets to spend their whole life just doing what they want to do, just ask Harvey Weinstein.

When my mother went to work every day in a sweatshop sewing for 8 hours a day while I was growing up, do you think she did it because it brought a song to her soul?

When my grandparents fled Russia to go to an uncertain future in Germany amidst World War II, leaving friends and family behind perhaps forever, do you think they viewed it as a chance for an unparalleled adventure?

When my birth mother offered me up for adoption, do you think it was with a sigh of relief and an exclamation of, “Whew, that’s a load off of my mind?”

No. They took those actions because those were the choices they were presented with. Not the choices they wanted, but the choices demanded by reality. Not the reality they wanted, but the one that existed. Sometimes, that’s what adulting calls for. In AA, we call it accepting life on life’s terms. It’s a core tenet and invaluable.

That doesn’t mean doing everything you are told to do or even not questioning while you comply. It does mean recognizing that not everything is a personal attack and that most of us share the same common goal of just getting through life as best we can. It means recognizing that at times, it’s not all about you and that sometimes it’s not even all about them.

We can put our fingers in our ears and pretend the pandemic doesn’t exist or isn’t as serious as advertised. We can pretend that there is only one clear path out and refuse to consider unintended consequences. We can pretend that we don’t share a planet with people who we can’t comprehend, but have to coexist with. We can pretend…but that’s just what that is…pretending.

As a practicing alcoholic, I did a lot of pretending. Pretending that I was in control. Pretending that I was the one privy to the real truth. Pretending that I had it all figured out and didn’t need anyone’s help. Pretending is hard work. And I’m grateful to have been provided a path forward that didn’t require as much pretending.

Before switching gears, I probably need to admit that at times I don’t always exercise what I preach. Last week I referred to Governor Lee and Commissioner Schwinn as Boris and Natasha. Probably innocuous, but definitely not helpful. So the warning to self-edit is for me as well.

ANOTHER MEANINGLESS MISSIVE FROM THE COMMISSIONER

It’s begun to dawn on people that discontinuing remote education except in a limited capacity, was not exactly the most prudent action. As COVID numbers are once again on the rise, some folks are coming to the realization that having a viable remote option would be helpful right about now. In response to this awakening, LEA’s have been asking for permission to offer remote instruction again. A notion that Governor Lee is not embracing, and his Commissioner of Education is trying to mitigate.

On Friday afternoon – remember what I’ve always told you about the Friday news drop – Commissioner Schwinn released a letter to districts that seemed to indicate that she would be granting some districts the ability to have individual schools go virtual. Her letter was met by applause across the state, but let’s stay in our seats a minute. Closer examination may throw a little cold water on the celebration.

Too often Ms. Schwinn’s words are taken at face value when the reality is something entirely different.

In this case, districts will be allowed to apply for seven-day waivers for individual schools but waivers will be “narrowly applied to preserve in-person learning wherever practicable.”   Per Chalkbeat,

Schwinn’s letter said the waiver process aims for “a nimble approach” to help schools navigate the worsening pandemic, marked by 14,000 pediatric cases of COVID across Tennessee for the week ending Aug. 21. She promised her team will review waiver requests daily and respond “as quickly as possible,” but that she will make the final decision.

Here’s something you probably ought to keep in mind. Ms. Schwinn is still out attempting to drum up interest in her “Best for All” district initiative, Member districts are being asked to tithe back 50% of their ESSER money and in return, they’ll receive certain perks. Among those perks, “Additional consideration for waivers”.

Response to her signature initiative has reportedly been lukewarm at best, but if Superintendents were forced into a position of joining in order to acquire a remote instruction waiver…I’m just saying. It’s not like she hasn’t hinted at such in the past.

Schwinn sticks a little warning in her message to superintendents. “I think this is the right approach, and I feel confident districts will be judicious in seeking waivers, It continues to be really important that we maximize in-person instruction.”

Of course, she thinks it’s the right approach, she’s the one designing it, When was the last time anyone made the announcement, “I think this is the wrong approach, but we are going to proceed as if it was the right choice”?

The rest of the statement is not dissimilar to me telling my kids, “we’ll see” when they ask for something. She’s clearly sending a message of don’t even bring it unless nothing else is available.

My favorite line in her letter is as follows, “The Department will review waiver requests each day at 9am, 12 noon, and 3pm CT and respond as quickly as possible.” WTF…why the specificity? If I get my waiver in at 8:50, will I be in the 9 AM slot or do I have to wait until noon? How long is each review session? Since Ms. Schwinn is the final say, will she attend all sessions or will her review be conducted at 10, 1, and 4? Can I request a time for my review, figuring she might be less grumpy after lunch so 3 would be better than noon, right? So many questions, so little time.

Once again, if you don’t laugh…you cry.

SHORT HITS

This weekend Commissioner Schwinn tweeted out an article on the “science of catching up.” Science, the new “organic”. Have you noticed that every solution for making up lost instructional time focuses on testing, tutoring, summer camps, curriculum, training on curriculum, but not actually on teachers themselves? I’m sure we’ll revisit that soon enough, but I just wanted to point it out. The science apparently points to everything but teachers for catching students up.

Schwinn’s referenced article cited tutoring as an essential part of accelerating student outcomes. Seeming to give credence to the Schwinn agenda. But I wonder if she read this part,

Education researchers have a particular kind of tutoring in mind, what they call “high-dosage” tutoring. Studies show it has produced big achievement gains for students when the tutoring occurs every day or almost every day. Less frequent tutoring, by contrast, was not as helpful as many other types of educational interventions. In the research literature, the tutors are specially trained and coached and adhere to a detailed curriculum with clear steps on how to work with one or two students at a time. The best results occur when tutoring takes place at school during the regular day.

Trained and coached, how does that align with MNPS looking for 2000 volunteers? How is this scalable in a reasonable time frame? What is different between tutoring and small group instruction in a balanced literacy classroom? Asking for a friend.

POSITIVE NOTES

Terri Lampley Watson continues to be an under-recognized gem for Overton High School. Tirelessly documenting student activities with professional-grade photographs. Here’s a couple of her latest. Thank you Terri!

The Federal Department of Education’s civil rights office will review indoor masking prohibitions in Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah, and examine whether bans in those states violate the rights of students with disabilities. Interesting company that Tennesse finds themself in, as the department’s Civil Rights office has not opened investigations in Texas, Arkansas, Florida, or Arizona. Kinda gives the appearance of being considered a minor league player. Poor Governor Lee, can’t even get the cops to take him seriously.

The College Grove Elementary School PTO president died from COVID-19 this weekend. It’s really sad for that community, which is one of the most tight-knit in Williamson County. Peace be with them.

Last week Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton announced the first-ever bipartisan House Select Committee on Redistricting. The list includes 16 House members, four of whom are Democrats. Deputy Speaker Curtis Johnson, R-Clarksville, will chair the committee, and Speaker Pro Tempore Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, is the committee’s vice chair. The other members are Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain; Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville; Rep. Gary Hicks, R-Rogersville; Rep. Karen Camper, D- Memphis; Rep. John Crawford, R-Bristol; Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby; Rep. Bob Freeman, D-Nashville; Rep. John Holsclaw, R-Elizabethton; Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland; Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis; Rep. Lowell Russell, R-Vonore; Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin; Rep. Ryan Williams, R- Cookeville; and Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston.

In looking at the roll call, who’s out is as informative as who’s in. The bottom line is, can’t win it if you ain’t in it. The date for the first meeting has not been set, but the games are about upon us.

August is the month in which I engage in my annual fundraising pitch, and it’s coming to a close. While undertaking this blog was my choice, it’s grown past expectations. It takes a lot of work and resources in order to keep up with it. Next month my hosting fees are due, That’s where I need your help.

This year I began sharing posts via email through Substack. It has been a new foray for me and has helped to increase coverage. I offer both free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. Still a work in progress.

If you don’t wish to subscribe but would like to join the rank of donors, you can 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.  Not begging, just saying.

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’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.

 

 



Categories: Education

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