IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TIMING

“No good decision was ever made in a swivel chair.”
George S. Patton Jr.

 

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?

JUST THOUGHTS

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.

Asking y’all to Vote NOW for Jeff Vercher for the Tennessean’s Athlete of the Week! Here is the link to vote:
Tuesday, September 14 is another MNPS board meeting. A look at the agenda indicates a long night of listening to public commentary, and perhaps a short conversation about the district’s proposed ESSER budget. For some inexplicable reason, the proposed ESSER budget is housed on the consent agenda. But of course, why would several 100 million dollars warrant anything but a cursory conversation?
Also on the agenda is board elections. At this point, there is little reason to believe that the current leadership team will not stay in place. That means another year of Christianne Buggs as chair supported by Rachel Elrod as vice-chair. Not an optimal leadership team, but considering current circumstances, it’s probably better to have consistency in leadership.
In looking at MNPS’s ESSER application I can’t help but notice the continued shift in demographics. Black students now make up 38.1% of the student population. This is down from 43% just a couple of years ago. Hispanics now make up 29.8% of the student body. That’s up dramatically from 26%. Unfortunately, district leadership continues to fail to reflect this change, as there are less than a handful of Hispanic educators in leadership positions. As far as I can tell there is no plan to rectify that inequity. White students remain consistent at 25.5%
Commissioner Schwinn continues to take shots at MNPS and SCS. When taken to task over the above-referenced quote from an interview with the NY Times and its assertion that imperfect responses to the pandemic were nobody’s fault, Ms. Schwinn responded by saying,
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.
So…the only districts that did hard work were the ones that stayed open? And she helped with that how? And the guidance she has provided this year has helped districts stay open, how? She is simply unbelievable.
Before we get out of here today, let me leave you with a little Karnac the Magnificent moment. The personal brand of Ms. Schwinn is getting pretty dinged up. I think most people in Tennessee have figured out by now, that we’ve been sold a bad bill of goods. So just like in her prior stops, it’s time to look for the exit that provides the next opportunity. The problem is, that at this point in the game, she has failed too greatly on too big a stage. The brand needs some reformation. So in that vein, I offer this vision.
With the lawsuits over masks piling up against Governor Lee and his administration, and greater push back on her attempted involvement in the adoption process for math materials, Ms. Schwinn begins to read the writing on the wall. As a result, she strides to the podium and announces that she can no longer with clear conscious work for Governor Lee. After all, she started her career as an intern with Diane Feinstein as an intern and was mentored by the great democratic of Sacramento Kevin Johnson.
Throughout her career, she has always tried to put children first while leaving politics to others. When she took the job she thought that by focusing on their shared commitment to children, she could overcome her philosophical differences with Bill Lee. Alas, his inactivity and inability to respond to the COVID threat in a manner that guarantees kids’ safety and welfare has produced an environment in which she longer feels she can serve. So, with great regret, she is stepping down.
Watch the lightning speed in which those on the Left would embrace her. She would be able to reposition herself as a woman of high morals, as opposed to her current reputation of high commerce. She could defend her actions of the last year as being those of a public servant as a good soldier. With enough polish, her performance could be good for at least one or two more highly compensated positions.
Time will tell.
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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If you are interested, I’m now sharing posts via email through Substack. This is a new foray for me and an effort to increase coverage. ‘ll be offering free and paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will receive additional materials as they become available. We’ll see how it goes.

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. Not begging, just saying.



Categories: Education

1 reply

  1. Schwinn should have been fired long ago, she is awful.

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