“Observe yourself as you start to drift toward the internet, searching for confirmation that you suck, and then use that impetus as a signal to instead turn off your phone or internet connection and be messy in your art for an hour without the intention of making anything in particular.”
Beth Pickens, Your Art Will Save Your Life


On January 7th, 2000 I took a trip up River Road. These were the first baby steps on a trip that I was uncertain I would be able to see to fruition.

The signs had been clear for years, drugs and alcohol weren’t working for me anymore, and change was inevitable, but still, I clung to old habits. I was blessed that the father of a young woman whose heart I had broken through my substance abuse somehow still saw value in me, despite my multiple transgressions. He took me under his wing and set my feet on the path to recovery. A gift I will never be able to repay.

I didn’t take to recovery like a duck to water, but fortunately, once it began, I never wavered from the journey. By grace, I never had to endure going back out after making the commitment to get clean.

AA was definitely not my cup of tea. I invented all kinds of mental games in order to make it through meetings. The biggest lesson I had to learn was that it wasn’t always about me and what I wanted. Sometimes I just had to suit up and shut up. It’s a lesson that still resonates today.

No matter how I feel about AA, it’s undeniable that it not only saved my life but also provided the tools that are so necessary to navigate today’s trials and tribulations. I honestly don’t believe I’d stand a chance facing the challenges of today without the valuable tools given me by my time spent in the rooms of Alcohol Anonymous.

AA was where I discovered the power of faith and re-enforced my belief in magic. Magic hasn’t fallen out of favor in today’s world, where science has become the new religion. That’s to our detriment. Balance, as I’ve learned is the secret. One over the other limits possibilities, as does one without the other. Balance is the secret sauce that has led me to this point.

I spent 27 days in a rehab facility with people that could never embrace the power of faith. Faith that if you took the steps, the change would come. Faith, that by surrendering you were taking power. Faith that life could be lived on life’s terms. Sadly some of those people are still struggling with addiction today, or worse, they are locked up or 6 feet under.

There is a science that explains why I’m an addict and what the continued use of drugs and alcohol would do to me. But without faith and a belief in magic, I’d be in a whole different place unable to embrace science.

Today I am grateful to live in a world where both magic and science can co-exist. It ain’t perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than the one I left behind 22 years ago.

Keep coming back, it works if you work it.


Before we get too far in the new year, I’ve got to pause and give a tip of the hat to Tennessee’s Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn. The fact that she is still employed by the state of Tennessee is a truly impressive feat. Not only is she still employed, but she’s still throwing her weight around with the hubris of the terminally successful despite multiple missteps and not having a single signature accomplishment.

During her tenure, she has subverted state law to manipulate textbook adoption. She has attempted to sneak policy by lawmakers on a regular basis. Families who did not qualify for the disability voucher program were awarded disability vouchers. Teacher TVAAS scores were delivered months late. Lawsuits were brought towards her and the department. Sweetheart contracts were awarded to companies that employed her spouse. None of it seemed to matter to the Teflon queen, she remains secure in the support of the governor.

Most impressive is her ability to mismanage the staff of the Tennessee Department of Education. Under the guise of disruption, upon arrival, Schwinn ran off the majority of long-term employees at the state DOE. At the time Governor Lee gave a public voice of support to the massive employee exits,

“The governor has given Commissioner Schwinn a mandate to challenge the status quo in education, and he is confident in her leadership,” Lee spokesman Chris Walker said by email. “Giving our kids every chance at success is what education is all about, and the Commissioner and her team are doing just that.”

Schwinn went further in giving the illusion that this was all a part of some sort of deliberate plan, and that staff departures were just a temporary thing. she told The Tennessean, “We’re really excited about the senior team and what they’re building,”

Unfortunately, events didn’t bear out Schwinn’s excitement. With Katie Houghtlin exiting the building last month, that entire senior leadership team she referred to is no longer employed by the state of Tennessee. Every leader she brought in has failed to remain through the Governor’s first term.

Schwinn still has a couple late entries like Chief of Staff for Academics Teresa Yates. former TFAer and resident of Boston who joined the team in June, and Accountability Superintendent RachelMaever from California who arrived 2 months ago from California, but mostly she’s left with those Tennesseans who were her before she got here. The ones she couldn’t chase out.

I don’t what’s more impressive, running one team off and then running your own team off, or managing to survive two purges.

Either way, I’d like to present Commissioner Schwinn with the inaugural Urban Meyer Leadership award. This award was created to honor the leadership skills Meyer championed while head coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars. It goes to the person who most amplifies those qualities while doing something Urban was unable to do – remain employed.

Here’s hoping Commissioner Schwinn doesn’t become the first back-to-back recipient.


My, how Mrs. Schwinn and her minions love a Christmas time RFP. Last year it was for a contract that was eventually awarded to the employer of her spouse. This year she is back with one that is designed to support her signature initiative but encompasses so much more.

Over the last 6 months, Commissioner Schwinn has been strong-arming districts to invest a significant portion of their ESSER money in her Tennessee Accelerating Literacy and Learning (TN ALL) Corps, Participation comes with a number of requirements,

  1. Districts must serve 15% of their 1st – 5th-grade students by the end of the three years. Districts may choose which students/grades to serve within this band. Districts may gradually increase the number of students served (please see page 6 for examples).
  2. Districts should maintain tutor ratios of 1:3.
  3. Serving students in grades 6-8 is optional. If a district opts to provide tutoring to students in grades

    6-8, ratios must be no more than 1:4.

  4. Districts should provide tutoring sessions that last between 30–45-minutes and occur 2 – 3 times per

    week. (Districts may also seek to supplement these time requirements with sprints during Fall,

    Winter, and/or Spring breaks, as noted in their applications.)

  5. When serving any student in 1st – 8th grades, the tutoring content must focus on reading or math for

    an entire semester. Districts should review student data and may choose to change the content

    focus after each semester, but students must be served for a full year.

  6. Data collection and reporting requirements will be consistent with what will already be required in ESSER.

You would think that if you were strong-arming folks into a program with stringent requirements, you’d have supports already fleshed out. But to her credit, Mrs. Schwinn never lets the details get in the way of a good scheme. Since we are already flying, it’s now time to build the plane. Or more specifically, allow someone else to build the plane while reaping a financial reward.

While TN ALL Corps is primarily a tutoring program, this RFA involves so much more,

The grant contract resulting from this RFA will provide continuous and ongoing support to the Tennessee districts that are participating in TN ALL Corps to ensure the successful development and implementation of the TN ALL Corps tutoring programs. Districts are in need of ongoing support for leaders to plan together, problem-solve together, and learn best practices. This support will be given through implementation networks for participating districts. These local networks will allow districts to work together closely to design and implement their tutoring program. Districts are in need of strong leadership, so leader training Is needed to ensure strong programs across the state. And finally, family communication resources are needed in order to support districts in the design and implementation of their programs. With these additional supports, districts will be better equipped to design and implement successful tutoring programs across Tennessee.

Riddle me this, what do tutoring, leadership development, and family engagement have to do with each other? And shouldn’t all three be separate RFA’s?

There are a couple more head-scratchers included here. What exactly is being described with this vendor requirement?

Assessment, scaffolding, and analyzing data: Create content with models of monthly data-analysis protocols, program improvement strategies, and Tutor scaffolding techniques to support Tutor development and students who may not be making progress in the district’s TN All Corps Tutoring program. This module must include platform-specific analysis modules that help leaders use the State’s required placement and progress monitoring tools. Revise existing State’s content on how to facilitate semester and year-end data reviews, Tutor evaluations, and determinations for Tutor program improvements. Develop protocols as determined by the state that leaders can use in their districts to ensure districts can evaluate and improve their Tutoring design, materials use, staffing effectiveness, student attendance and engagement, and overall impact of the district’s TN ALL Corps program.

Feels like this asking for something way beyond just tutoring? But maybe that’s just me. This portion interests me as well because with all the initiatives that Commissioner Schwinn has thrown against the wall, what data will reveal what actually stuck?

Another hmmm-moment comes here,

FY22: Early Adopter Network, a convening for district leaders that are participating in TN ALL Corps in order to learn best practices, learn from one another, and receive support in implementing their TN ALL Corps programs.

i. The Grantee shall hold four (4) virtual sessions for up to fifty (50) virtual participants. This includes setting up the virtual meetings, sending a communication to districts, managing the digital platform, and developing the agenda and supplemental materials.

1. Session timeline:
a. Session one shall be delivered during February 2021. b. Session two shall be delivered in March 2021.
c. Session three shall be delivered in April 2021

Initially, I read this as another example of the TNDOE’s sloppiness and inattentiveness to detail. But what if it’s intentional? What if this RFA is designed towards a specific vendor, one who has already met this requirement?

I don’t believe that is out of the realm of possibility. Hopefully, someone will ask that question before another vendor gets a 4.3 million dollar Christmas bonus.


There has been much debate in Tennessee over charter schools. Most centered on the two major urban areas of Memphis and Nashville. This week that is scheduled to change as the newly created Tennessee Charter Commission is slated to take up the debate over the rejection of a charter school in Rutherford County this morning.

The application was brought up last Spring and was initially considered incomplete. Until the Tennessee Department of Education intervened.

On April 27, 2021, the Tennessee Department of Education issued a written directive resulting in a determination that the initial application of RCP is complete. RCS was advised by the Tennessee Department of Education to issue a decision on the RCP initial application within ninety (90) days.

Rutherford County ultimately held the hearing and denied the application. As per their state-granted right, Rutherford Collegiate Prep appealed that decision. That appeal was heard this morning and resulted in approval for the charter school.

The motion to override Rutherford County’s decision was made by a count of 4-3 despite board member Wendy Tucker pointing out that the data shows that trying to fix incomplete applications in order to approve schools, seldom leads to successful schools. Commission members seemed determined to jam a charter school into a non-urban setting despite existing shortcomings in the school’s application.

Many of the commissioners voiced an opinion that Rutherford County Schools had “played games” with the application process, and as a result, they were insistent in overturning the decision of the district in an effort to issue a warning to other LEA’s and not because they felt this school was prepared to offer a viable option to the district’s students. Few voiced an opinion that indicated they felt the school presented a compelling argument to allow them to begin enrolling students.

In other words, more adult games in response to adult games.

To Rutherford County, I offer a hearty welcome to the Thunder Dome. It’s only downhill from here.


Look what cream has risen to the top in Hamilton County. Chattanooga recently named Dr. Justin Robertson to replace former Director of Schools Bryan Johnson. One of Robertson’s first actions was to appoint former MNPS administrator Sonia Stewart to the role of Deputy Superintendent for Hamilton County Schools. You may remember that Stewart and MNPS Director of Schools Adrienne Battle weren’t exactly besties. Stewart spent a year in Battle’s dog house before exiting to Chattanooga where she assumed the role of Midtown Learning Community, and now she’s the number two. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out on a state level going forward.

It’s even more interesting when you consider that TNDOE deputy superintendent Lisa Coons is another MNPS administrator terminated by Dr. Battle. Coons was exceptionally incompetent in her role as executive director of priority schools – excuse me, schools of innovation- but sometimes it is best to heed the words of Michael Corleone, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?”

In Nashville, MNPS School board member and state executive director of Education Trust Gini Pupo-Walker has elected not to run for re-election. She cites numerous reason’s for her decision.

“At the end of the day, it’s a bandwidth issue,” Pupo-Walker told The Tennessean. “My ability to take care of my parents is getting harder and harder as each year goes by and I think passing the baton to someone with fresh legs is a good idea and I do believe that other people should serve.”

Gabe Hart, chief communications officer for Haywood County Schools and a former teacher of English and Literature, has written an editorial for the TN Lookout that needs to be read by anybody who cares about kids and their education. Hart points out,

In December, in an attempt to recruit more corrections officers, Lee gave new officers a 37% raise which put the starting salary for a TDOC officer at $44,500.  First-year teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools will make $46,000 during their first year, and MNPS is one of the highest-paying districts in the state.  First-year teachers in Madison County make $38,000. The average first-year teacher makes around $40,000 — almost $5,000 less than a first-year corrections officer.

The money shot comes with the conclusion where he advises Governor Lee,

It’s in his best interest to put his money where his mouth is.  Stop telling teachers that we’re essential and show us how essential we are.

Riddle me this, have we ever seen such an influx of federal dollars with so little to show for its infusion, like that associated with ESSER funding? I’m hard-pressed to cite any instances where the cash has resulted in tangible success stories. Instead of improving student outcomes, it seems to primarily benefit adults. Sure, there were investments made in technology, but everything else has seemingly been a wash. In the higher-education world at least they used the money to help students’ financial situation. In k-12, MNPS teachers were given a grand pre-taxes with an expectation of eternal gratitude. Maybe this is just another example of the new math, but something ain’t adding up.

If you’ve got something you’d like me to highlight and share, send it on to 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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