“No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”
For those of you who are unfamiliar, TOSS is the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. All of Tennessee’s individual school superintendents are members, and it’s led by Dale Lynch, as political a leader as you’ll ever meet.
Lynch was appointed Executive Director of TOSS on July 1, 2017. Prior to that, he had been Director of Schools in both Hamblen County and Elizabethton City for almost two decades. Since the arrival of Commissioner Schwinn in Tennessee, Lynch has been a reliable favorable quote generator for the lady from the Golden State. No matter how egregious her policy position, he’s always there to polish it and make it look less like a ….well you get the picture.
TOSS is another one of those policy groups, like TEA, PET, and SCORE, that are always toiling away in the background trying to influence policy. In most cases, the work they do is pretty commendable, save on a few instances of late. Over the past year, there have been some questions raised around Lynch’s leadership as it relates to keeping members informed and truly representing their views.
These days, educators find themselves in very difficult times. A once difficult job has become almost untenable. Even Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn has admitted the start of the year has been very difficult. Questions swirl around just what was lost last year, while everyone struggles to keep kids in schools without killing teachers – both literally and figuratively.
Amidst all this turmoil – 6 weeks into a school year where nothing has been settled – somebody decided it would be a great time to hold a high-profile banquet in order for school superintendents to spend some time clapping each other on the back. A little extra time self-congratulatory time while parents and teachers were busy at home trying to keep their heads from coming unglued.
The handing out of Superintendent of the Year, Teacher of the Year, and other awards of this ilk are a suspect practice in the best of times, Educating kids is not something done without a group effort – that includes parents and support staff. It is also not a practice where everyone toils under the same circumstances. Every district is different, with its own plusses and minuses. What usually happens with these things, is they become a bit of a popularity contest.
That’s not to take anything away from the winners, as bad educators don’t tend to be very popular with their peers. Still, the question always remains, is the winner truly the “best educator”, or merely the most visible with the best story?
Under normal circumstances, it’s an innocuous event that provides a way to celebrate those often working in somewhat obscurity. However, in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that shows little signs of abating anytime soon, it becomes a whole different beast. Imagine if while under siege at the Alamo, Colonel Travis had held a banquet in order to name his officer and enlisted man of the year?
What if during the winter at Valley Forge, Washington held a banquet to honor his general of the year?
Both present ludicrous proposals, and holding an awards banquet under current circumstances falls right there with them.
Secondly, this is another ill-begotten attempt to act as if nothing has changed, and we can just return to 2019 and pick up where we left off. What are the criteria that these awards are based on? We have no idea what’s working and what’s not? We have no idea what the eventual outcomes are actually going to be when the dust all settles.
We act as if the simple return to classrooms ensures success in itself. It doesn’t. I’m seeing it with my own children. While they are happy to be back attending school in person, there are still a ton of issues that need navigating. Issues other than those measured by standardized tests.
In my experiences the academics are quickly coming back, it’s the social developmental issues that are proving the most challenging.
My son is a 6th grader, in a district where middle school starts in 5th grade. There are a ton of small things that go into transitioning from elementary school to middle school that he never experienced. Those are legitimate learning gaps. Simple things like managing your time from getting off the bus in the morning to getting to the first period. Yes, a simple thing, but if you’ve never done it before, and you are suddenly finding yourself in trouble for failing to execute it properly, it becomes stressful.
Middle school is a breeding ground for cliques. Now you have a new element, those who returned in the Spring of last year, and those who remained virtual are now suddenly thrown in the same pool together. What are the implications? Who knows, we are too busy rushing off to administer MAP testing, IReady, and a plethora of other screeners designed to measure what kids know, but not how they feel. Everybody is so worried about learning loss as it relates to academia that social development is quickly pushed to the side.
Read Commissioner Schwinn’s comments in a recent interview with the NY Times if you don’t believe me. Lots of talk about levels, gaps, drops, and a sundry of academic-related terms. Not a word about just surviving the daily experience that is school right now. Shit ain’t gotten easier, and it won’t no matter how many self-congratulatory banquets get thrown.
What does do on at these banquets is a lot of shmoozing. And nothing eases the pains of conversation like drink tickets.
Now I can’t promise that this is how things worked Saturday, but it’s how they worked in the past and I see no reason to suspect change at this juncture.
Superintendents are given a couple of drink tickets, good for an adult beverage, with their admission tickets. Should you run out of tickets, you just need to get them from a vendor or a sponsor. So who are those folks?
If we peruse the list of sponsors, we quickly recognize a few familiar names – NEIT, Curriculum Associates, and of course…Amplify.
Luckily, just in case Superintendents were at a loss of words over what to talk about when picking up more drink tickets, Amplify has a brand new Math curriculum coming available. One that is designed around the idea that a core math curriculum needs to serve 100 percent of students in accessing grade-level math every day. Keep in mind, that with a little help from Commissioner Schwinn, and some friendly cover from Mr. Lynch, Amplify was able to produce their ELA product, CKLA, in over 60% of Tennessee’s districts. Sure would be nice to do the same with math.
As far as I am concerned, every superintendent in Tennessee who is still showing to work and leading their district is the state superintendent of the year. The work is extremely difficult and for the most part thankless. The same holds true for teachers, principals, custodians, para-pros, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, nurses, and retired teachers working 120-day contracts. (Come to think of it, an award banquet for school support staff sounds like a whole lot more fun than one for school superintendents.)
But can we wait to hand out awards until after the current crisis has been resolved?
Maybe? Jwust maybe?
Looks like Knoxville schools are going to be in the market for a Superintendent in the near future. I can’t help but wonder if Chattanooga’s interim superintendent Nakia Townes will make a play. She’d previously been with KCS, but perhaps it’s been long enough that the McIntyre stains will have washed out.
Rumors are starting to circulate that Bill Lee is thinking presidential these days. Personally, I think he’d get trumped by either Florida Governor Ron DeSantis or Texas’s Greg Abbott if they decided to run, but maybe not. Maybe the country is ready for an affable fellow from Williamson County to offer some sound guidance. If Governor Lee knows that guy, hopefully, he’ll help him file papers.
Exactly. My comments were in the context of 144 of 147 districts in TN being IN PERSON last year. Districts in TN did the hard work to ensure that we stayed open. The pandemic wasn’t their fault. They did the work. My point was – not all states fit the national narrative.
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