IF TOMORROW NEVER COMES

“I don’t like questions. They invent the answers. The real answers are discovered, before you even know what the question is.”
William McIlvanney, Laidlaw

 

The other day I was scrolling through my social media posts when I came upon the following from an old friend,

“My kids graduate in May. My plan is to speak at the June school board meeting followed by however meetings it takes me to get the last 12 years off my chest without worrying about who I may piss off and how it may affect my kids. I’m already excited. 🙂

I paused for a moment and reflected on his words. We used to regularly talk back when both of us wore younger man’s clothes. He’d welcomed his kids into the world a few years before me, but our worldview, and approach to fatherhood were similar.

Deeply committed to his children, and their education, he’d been a tireless advocate for MNPS during his kid’s elementary school years. Often addressing the board on various issues, joining the PTA, even going as far as organizing a father’s group that met weekly in an effort to strengthen the cluster. He was the epitome of what school administrators claim to be looking for in parents.

Since he lived across town from me, my updates into his family life usually came via social media. As his kid’s entered into their middle school years, updates on his advocacy work became infrequent. Running into him one afternoon, I asked about his current level of involvement.

“We’re still involved”, he answered, “Just not as much. I think that’s the way the system is designed. Get’s you hyped and deeply involved in the beginning, then just wear you down, until, in the end, you withdraw more and more.”

Over the years, as I continued doing whatever it is I do, I’ve thought about those words quite frequently, often feeling the ring of truth. Based on his recent post, I’d say, in this case, the system had worked to perfection.

In talking to parents, especially those with kids entering into high school it’s a sentiment I hear expressed with greater frequency,

“Three more years and then we are down. If I just hold on.”

“Man, all we got to do is make it 2 more years and then I’m done with all of it.”

Different variations, but always the same words, uttered by people who in the earlier years had been champions for public schools. Parents who had served on PTO’s and volunteered as classroom aides. Parents who had volunteered to read to kids, and chaperone field trips. For the most part, just holding on, talking like runners hitting the back end of a grueling marathon.

Maybe the exhaustion stems from the rigor of parenting, Raising a family ain’t easy, whether it is one or 7. Until you’ve experienced it, you can’t begin to understand the degree of difficulty. And no it’s not the same as owning a cat or dog.

And maybe it is how love works. I’ve heard marriage referred to as a death by a thousand cuts. Over the years we are often guilty of slighting, ignoring, and dismissing those we hold most dear. Perhaps this is just another example of us neglecting those that should be deeply valued.

At last week’s MNPS board meeting, the talk centered upon the importance of parental involvement in a child’s academic success. CAO Mason Bellamy, in an answer to a question from board member John Little – who inexplicably didn’t seem familiar with the state’s RTI or MTSS process – described the district’s parent hub as a cornerstone to the parent/school relationship, going on to praise the district’s efforts to expand offerings.  However, as is usually the case with administrator presentations, what’s not being said is as important as what is being said.

When pressed by school board members, Bellamy admitted that only 23% of the parents in the district were enrolled in the parent portal. A portal that had existed for multiple years. But fear not, starting tomorrow, Bellamy was going to have his principals focusing on getting more parents signed up.

What remains unclear is why tomorrow, as opposed to last week? or last month? or even last year? If parental involvement was truly as important as Bellamy was espousing, shouldn’t somebody have already recognized the shortcoming and taken steps to address it? Why do I suspect that if there hadn’t been a school board meeting last Tuesday, tomorrow would become some nebulous date in the future?

Too often, tomorrow never seems to come.

As public education advocates, we often bemoan the attacks of outside forces on our beloved institution, but perhaps equal attention should be paid to what goes on inside the tent.

The system wears teachers down to a point where adequate staffing becomes an untenable burden. The same holds true for support staff, so integral to a school’s ability to function. parents are often alienated. And too many kids fall through the cracks. Instead of addressing these issues head on, we prefer a strategy of putting our fingers in our ears and humming real loud.

Case in point, despite years of a declining pool of bus drivers, little effort has been made to change the way we transport kids to school. Other than to discuss how transportation can facilitate earlier start times, scant attention is paid to the growing inability for urban districts to successfully transport their students. As a result, utilizing “party busses” complete with stripper poles is now considered a viable means of student transportation.

I’m sure tomorrow the Boston school district will have an in-depth conversation about busing challenges.

Yesterday, the indispensable Mercedes Schneider rightfully took great umbrage at recent claims by Teach for America that public education hasn’t changed for 100 years,

Students and families count on school to give children agency to lead and shape a better future for themselves. Yet our schools were never designed to unleash the potential of all children. Schools weren’t designed to meet the diverse needs of millions of students who rely on them today. They weren’t designed to help children facing challenges of poverty overcome those obstacles and access opportunity in a dynamic, global world. And our public school system is remarkably impervious to innovation, adaptation, and change.

Schneider rightfully points out a number of key areas that significant change has been made since 1921, including but not limited to,

  • The expected, terminal grade level was eighth grade.
  • No auxiliary services were provided, including lunch or transportation.
  • There was no such thing as any accommodation for a special population. Students not deemed “normal” could be denied admittance.
  • Schools provided no mental health services, and students who missed school due to illness were not entitled to opportunities to recoup missed work.
  • Corporal punishment was expected, endorsed, and utilized.
  • There was no “mixing of the races,” with white citizens leveraged to advantage, including in educational experience.

She also rightfully points out that TFA has been in existence for 30 years now without making any significant contributions to education issues. I would argue that they have only been useful in providing temporary relief to staffing district staffing problems while strengthening the narrative that anybody with minimal training can be a high-quality teacher. A claim akin to that of a decade of piano lessons being capable of transforming a child into Mozart.

As ludicrous as TFA’s claims are, I would also question though, whether public educations transformation has been rapid enough and truly responsive to the needs of all stakeholders. If parents are regularly exiting the system exhausted and depleted, is the system really functioning at a high level? And if it’s not, how do we expect it to fight off outside challengers?

Charter School growth as it relates to new operators, has definitely slowed, but existing schools have continued to see increased enrollment. At the same time, theyve become more established as part of a city’s education landscape. The successful ones now have a proven track record in which to attract future students.

Take Nashville’s Valor Academy for example. A school I was once vehemently opposed to, but now give serious consideration as an option for my son. A consideration that once would have been deemed at least improbable, if not impossible. However, a series of cuts and disappointments over the past several years have contributed to a growing sense of , maybe there is another way to do this. Maybe the local school isn’t the only logical fit for my child.

The challenges are only going to grow. We are now entering a period where children educated in charter schools are raising their own families, and making choices for their own children. They are not going to be swayed by the same arguments of malfeasance and inadequacy that have been employed over the last decade. They will use their own experiences as a barometer in order to gauge what is best for their children. And part of that will come from discussions with their own parents.

If, say Valor, has a parental portal with 70% participation vs MNPS’s 23%, who’s going to win out? And that is just one challenge looming on the horizon.

Yes, I am familiar with the unfair playing field on which charter schools operate, but if we are waiting for some great leveling to occur, we’d be better off buying that bridge in Arizona I have trying to unload. We always tell our children that excuses only go so far, maybe it’s time to practice what we preach?

We can wait until tomorrow to start addressing these growing challenges, but perhaps it’s something we ought to commit to today. Just saying.

NOTHING LIKE A SUMMIT IN A PANDEMIC

Evoking scenes from the Kubrick movie Eyes Wide Shut, the Tennessee Department of Education kicks off its inaugural Reading360 Summit on Tuesday. It’s a virtual summit, so unfortunately participants won’t be able to enjoy a mid-week afternoon walk in the woods together. Slated to continue through Thursday it offers a full slate of learning opportunities for educators. A glance at the posted agenda reveals a plethora of enticing session titles,

“What Knowledge is Next for Teachers?”

“Teachers as Neuroscientists”

“The Role of the Leader as Chief Learner to Support Effective Literacy Practices”

Many of these are scheduled to be led by the usual suspects on the TNDOE’s go-to list – Millicent Smith, Lenoir City Schools, Jill Ramsey, Putnam County School, Scott Langford and Sabrina McClard, Sumner County School – most of who have done similar presentations with predictable results for SCORE. All avowed proponents of Common Core.

The exciting news is that John Hopkins University’s David Steiner is slated to address attendees as well. You know, the guy who reviewed our test book adoption process at the request of Ms. Schwinn and who has been trumpeting Common Core for decades? Should have all kinds of insight relevant to Tennessee’s education policy and practice. Too bad John King wasn’t available.

Wonder if Governor Lee knows just how many state checks are getting written to advocates of Common Core while he’s out bragging about stomping out Common Core?

The question I find myself asking is, while this make is a noble offering, just who is the intended audience? Who’s going to be able to attend three days in the middle of the week during an ongoing pandemic?

Superintendents may be able to take off in order to drop their pearls of wisdom, but for teachers, it’s a different story. They are already scrambling to cover classes left open due to illness, address student needs for those students in quarantine, all while trying to deal with what has been described as a generational crisis by Commissioner Schwinn. In other words, they are a little busy. Like Custer holding a summit on horseback riding during the Battle of Little Big Horn.

Even if they could somehow make time to attend, it’s not like there is an abundance of subs standing ready to cover classes while teachers take time to genuflect at the alter of self-proclaimed experts.

Let’s assume that some useful information is actually divulged at this gathering, what are teachers supposed to do with it? A glance at Tennessee’s recently released COVID dashboard shows 6125 new cases of students diagnosed with COVID last week, up from 625 and 1020 teachers, up from 80 the previous week. That doesn’t even include the number of teachers and students in quarantine. But please, by all means, let’s talk about Leveraging Assessments in HQIM to Maximize Tier 2 and 3 Interventions.

I suspect that organizers will have no problem meeting the true goals of this summit, the increased investment in the commissioner’s preferred vendors. Lots of checks will get written based on what gets said by the summit’s presenters. And luckily, thanks to the federal government, there is lots of money on which to draw.

The one session that I don’t see listed, is one that would probably be the most useful,

How to narrow the widening gap between what transpires in the classroom and what transpires in the board room.

But I think that is on tomorrow’s agenda.

The bottom line is, teachers are stretched thin. parents are stretched thin. Everybody is focusing on dealing with the present circumstances. If you are concerned about students outcomes and looking for ways to pitch in, sub for a class, drive a bus, be a lunchtime monitor,

Schools need help making the present work, not new initiatives. Kids need to settle into new normalcy before they can be receptive to new initiatives.

Be a part of the solution instead of adding to the noise.

New initiatives, and practices, really are something that can wait until tomorrow.

QUICK HITS

While Sumner County School CAO Scott Langford is off at the 360Reading Summit talking about, Using the Instructional Practice Guide to Provide Feedback, the Sumner County School Board is poised to vote on a resolution asking Gov. Bill Lee and the Tennessee General Assembly to grant additional flexibility to school districts in dealing with the pandemic. This comes on the heels of having to close 49 schools last week due to COVID complications. Andy Spears has more details over at the TNED Report.

Last Thursday, Maplewood High School and Ascension Saint Thomas celebrated its on-campus community clinic’s fourth year of operation. Per the online news magazine Mainstreet Nashville, “The clinic opened at the school four years ago as part of the Tennessee Pathways program. Ascension Saint Thomas partnered with Maplewood to open the clinic at the school and create an on-campus opportunity for students to learn about health care and gain certifications.” The clinic sees about 200 visitors a month. Props to all.

Something worth keeping an eye on, in the span of less than 30 days, high-powered state lobbyist Mark Cate added and removed the Shelby County Board of Education as a client. Could be nothing…but then again.

I keep hearing that Governor Lee is intent on his administration writing their own revisions to the BEP laws. Hmmm…raise your hand if you think this is a potentially good idea. yea, I thought so.

Good news for MNPS on the COVID front, new cases were lower last week than the previous week – 376 compared to 504. As of today, 2191 students and teachers are in quarantine or isolation. Still aways to go, but headed in the right direction. Could be causation, or it could be a correlation, but in any case, the districts’ mask mandate doesn’t seem to be hurting the cause

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.

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 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

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