Are We Serious yet?

“Darwinism is dynamic. It is about change, not stasis; about process, not pattern; about tales, not tableaux; about becoming, not being.”
Henry Gee, In Search of Deep Time


The other night I was driving home, it was fast approaching midnight, and I flipped on to the Ben Shapiro show. For those who are unfamiliar, Shapiro is a conservative talk show host. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he makes me think. On my car radio, the conservative talk station is programmed right next to the Nashville Public Radio station, Both of which bring `equal levels of aggravation, but that’s another story for another day.

On this particular night, Shapiro was talking about Kanye West and his recent ban from Twitter after he posted anti-Semitic statements. Shapiro is a free speech advocate, but also Jewish, I was intrigued by what his take would be. Not surprisingly, Shapiro didn’t support banning West, as in his mind West’s statements s[poke more into his mental state, than his racism. The latter perhaps being a byproduct of the former. The talk show host was of the opinion that West was clearly suffering from a mental illness, but society was much more willing to focus on racism as opposed to mental health, thus preventing West from getting the help he needed.

I don’t disagree with Shapiro’s take, in my eyes, the talented rapper has struggled with mental health for quite some time. My armchair quarterback take is that the death of West’s mother sent him into a tailspin and he is yet to recover. Ironically, his mother was a college professor who chaired the English department at Chicago State University.

Shapiro closed his talk on mental health treatment in America by saying something along the lines of, “If you want to treat mental health as a serious issue, you have to get serious about mental health issues.”

Over the last week, I’ve turned that thought over and over in my head, and it is perfect in its simplicity. The thing is, it doesn’t just apply to mental issues, you can also apply it to educator attrition as well.

Word has begun began to leak out that Crieve Hall principal Nate Miley is leaving MNPS to pursue other opportunities. He’s just the latest in a long line of talent who has chosen to apply their skills elsewhere.

Miley arrived in Nashville from Indiana at the beginning of previous director Shawn Joseph’s tenure, though the two were unconnected. He was part of a class of 30-something new principals taking over district schools that year.

I remember sitting at the board meeting where he was introduced, and him speaking briefly. He talked about listening and being responsive, as opposed to bringing a pre-disposed plan. His words were both humble and positive, two elements you don’t often hear in combination. In my estimation at the time, he didn’t stand a chance. The parents at Crieve Hall would eat him alive,

I don’t mind saying it, but seven years later, the Indiana transplant has proven me wrong.

He’s turned into a treasure, and the school and community are better because of his service. And I do mean service.

Miley gets it, he’s a true servant leader. He takes care of his people and his charges with equal aplomb. Under his tutelage, the school has thrived, despite difficult circumstances acerbated by COVID.  Now the district is faced with the task of replacing a talented leader, in a world where their number is limited.

We talk often about the attrition rate of teachers, but seldom about the dearth of quality school leadership. MNPS can ill-afford to bleed talent at either the teacher or principal level. However, their only response seems to be to hold a job fair. There is one scheduled for next month, as well as February. I can promise you this, neither Miley nor anyone of his caliber will be at either fair.

Someone sent me a fancy graphic about teacher attrition in Tennessee. It was pretty, but as I responded to them, “They can publish all the fancy graphs they want, create all the databases, make all the reasons they want to justify, the bottom line is that we’re hemorrhaging teachers, and we’re doing nothing to hold onto them.”

I stand by that testament, and if you doubt me, let’s tour any school together. Just because a school employs a teacher, doesn’t mean that teacher is in the classroom. That’s not a negative indictment of teachers, that’s the reality, due to expectations growing past capacity. Expectations continue to grow, even as teachers and principals leave with increased frequency, But we don’t talk about it, we just quote numbers, create graphs, and whistle past the graveyard, quickly transitioning into Grow Your Own and recruitment celebrations.

All of these Grow Your Own programs are wonderful, but what happens if you grow 10K new teachers, or even 100k, and you don’t address current working conditions? You just have 10K new people leaving in 2 years.

Sure the pathway to accreditation needs modifying, but again, by not addressing current working conditions, your just adding to an ever-increasing exit stream.

It’s not just young teachers that are leaving either. It’s talented veterans. veterans with proven track records who we let slip out the door with nary a goodbye wave.

This week Titan’s GM, John Robinson, lost his job. It’s widely recognized that his trading of superstar wide receiver A.J. Brown while drafting a talented rookie out of Arkansas, Treylan Burke, contributed to his early departure.

At the time, trading a proven commodity for a speculative payoff was viewed as an imprudent move. This season, Brown has helped lead his new team to a potential Super Bowl title. Burke shows flashes of capability, but has struggled to remain on the field and consistently contribute. Thus far the critics are being proven correct. Fortunes may reverse themselves, but the potential payoff may be years in the future, if at all.

We can recognize the fallacy of this strategy in the sporting arena, but it eludes us in the schoolhouse. Why?

The only answer is because we choose to. It’s easier to get upset about the rambling of the leader of a boutique charter school than it is to actually live voiced supposed morals. Luckily, Hillsdale is back in action in Tennessee, providing a distraction – allowing people to jump to defend people they’ll shove to the side when no one is looking.

Recently, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to be exact, MNPS help a parade to celebrate the district’s non-charter schools. It was sparsely attended and no one but the district’s executive cabinet thought it was a good use of time. Maybe next year, the district could collect all the first and second-year teachers, along with enrollees in local teacher prep programs, and have them march in the parade, holding a banner and maybe riding a float.

The sad part is that over at Bransford Avenue, somebody just read that last paragraph, stroked their chin, and thought, “Not a bad idea. Maybe include high school students as well.”

Yea…if you want to get serious about teacher attrition, you gotta get serious about teacher attrition.

Has anybody Seen My Penny?

At a recent gathering of Tennessee Superintendents, TDOE Chief Academic Officer Lisa Coons responded to an inquiry about the whereabouts of Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn with a flippant joke about not seeing the commissioner recently, and if you see her let me know. Everybody chuckled a bit, but the reality is that Schwinn has been strangely absent as of late. She’s never exactly been the hardest working woman in show biz, but this feels different.

First, it was the state Principal of the year awards, and then it was the SCORE event, neither of which she graced with her presence. Nor was an explanation for her absence offered. At the Principal of the Year ceremony, it was Meghan McLeroy holding things down for the MIA commissioner.

Governor Lee, fresh off of re-election, has not announced appointments to his next term cabinet. While he has given no indication that Commissioner Schwinn will not be a part of his team going forth, still tongues are wagging.

Some speculation has centered around, a certain council where she has friends in high places. That organization recently announced they were looking to fill some leadership positions. Those listings are no longer posted, fueling speculation. Might be a good fit for the California native. Only pays about 190K, but offers an opportunity to work remotely.

Just saying.

Quick Hits

Tennessee’s new third-grade retention law is fixing to kick in next year. Come June, there may be a whole bunch of third graders looking at another year of third grade due to results from their TCAP test. That reality is proving a bit uncomfortable for lawmakers, who are starting to think about making revisions. many of these lawmakers voiced their reservations about the law that removes local leaders from the decision-making process. Stay tuned…this conversation is far from over.

The point of a pilot program is to run it in a controlled environment for a limited number of years and then assess if it’s worth expanding. Hamilton County’s State Sen. Todd Gardenhire seems to not grasp that principle and is pushing for Chattanooga students to become eligible for vouchers. According to the Tennessee Lookout:

“Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican, acknowledged Thursday he was not requested by Hamilton County Schools to sponsor the legislation but noted it is designed for the district’s students. Under the current program, only low-income students in Shelby County and Metro Nashville school districts are allowed to apply for the program, which enables them to use about $8,000 in state dollars to enroll in private schools.”

I’m sure this one will end well.

Next Tuesday MNPS will hold its bi-monthly meeting, A glance at the agenda shows that no charter school discussions are scheduled, so I suspect the meeting will be a brief one. There is a proposed budget amendment that proposes 8 new HR positions. Hopefully, none of those are in recruiting roles. That’s a case of if I hire 8 more snipe hunters, am I going to find more snipes? to be fair there are a number of administrative areas around leave and such that are understaffed at this juncture. But, if you….never mind.

Remember back a few years when district leaders held a Christmas party for the central office and gave away TVs and other luxury items? Good times right? Well, this year, the holiday’s come with a new twist and Coach Save the Date Flyer} Thanks to a partnership with Coach, principals will have the opportunity to stop by Bransford and pick up a gift. Not saying principals aren’t worth it…but…HO!HO!HO!

Saw this photo this morning and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it made me more than a little sad. Many of us spent our glorious misspent youth on the Rock Block, You can’t stop progress, and a gathering place for misfits doesn’t fit the future as envisioned by Amazon and such. Every day, a little bit more of the city’s soul dies.

I’m going to close with a little more evidence of that diminishing of the city’s soul. Midweek saw the death of the long-time writer, musician, and baseball zealot Peter Cooper. While Cooper and I ran in the same circles, I must admit I did not know him well, still, I can testify to his impact on Nashville. . He was a talented man that left a mark on the heart of all he interacted with. He’s another one that got it.

Cooper wrote in his 2017 book “Johnny’s Cash & Charley’s Pride.”“Objectivity is the mortal enemy.”Now, for sure, you need a good bull**** detector, and you shouldn’t rant, and you shouldn’t cheerlead, but objectivity is dispassionate. And we’re in the passion business. We’re trying to make people feel something different than what they felt before they read our words.”

Godspeed to you sir,

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to either the Baker Cooper fund to support Peter’s son’s education, or the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, supporting their cultural organization’s educational mission.

Send donations to: Baker Cooper c/o Wells Fargo Bank

1712 West End Avenue

Nashville, TN 37203

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 sharing posts via email through Substack. This has proven to be an effective way to increase coverage. Readers have the option of either free or paid subscriptions. Paid subscriptions will potentially receive additional materials as they become available. Your support would be greatly appreciated.

If you wish to join the rank of donors but are not interested in Substack, 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

2 replies

  1. The trouble with getting people interested in retention is that, for many, short term teachers are great. They’re cheap, and they don’t get invested enough to start demanding resources ore support. Much of the charter industry’s business plan is to burn and churn. So too much focus goes to feeding more raw material into the meat grinder because too few leaders are convinced that career teachers who stick around aren’t that much of an asset. They’re expensive, and they don’t know their place.

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