Tennessee Goes Back to Looking Back Texas

“It is important to have questionable friends you can trust unconditionally.”
Chuck Klosterman, Downtown


Reading the news that Al Kooper has been selected for inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame makes my morning.

For those who don’t know, Al was the original lead singer of Blood, Sweat, and Tears, produced the first Lynard Skynard record, and did a slew of other cool things.

He spent a fair amount of time in Nashville during the 90s, and during that time, was a frequent visitor to the Ace of Clubs.

He’s got a droll sense of humor, that can suddenly erupt in infectious laughter. Laughter, that accompanied some of the best stories in music.

I remember a night hanging outside the club cutting up with Al, Billy Prine, and George Marinelli. Now that was some comedy.

He once told me how he came to play on one of the most iconic songs of the 60s – Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone.

He wasn’t scheduled to play or even invited to the studio by Dylan. It was guitarist Mike Bloomfield who was responsible for that. If I’m not mistaken Bloomfield needed a ride, as he was playing guitar on the session, and he got Cooper to take him. Or maybe Kooper just tagged along, in either case, the uninvited was now present.

Once he got there and heard the music, Kooper decided he had to get in on it. So he began to conspire about how he could make that happen. He noticed that there was an unmanned B3 in the corner of the studio, so he slipped in undetected as they were recording, and used it to throw that now iconic organ riff into the song.

Obviously, people were pissed when they heard it on the tape, but Dylan liked it and kept it. Just another mark made on rock and roll history by Kooper.

My favorite Kooper memory is from when Angie and I were living together on Belmont Avenue.

One Sunday night we were hanging out watching TV, and around 830 the phone rang. It was Al.

“What are you doing?”

“Nothing just watching TV.”

What followed was perhaps one of the most banal, yet surreal conversations in my life. I can’t remember a thing about what we spent the next 10 minutes talking about. I just remember looking at Angie in puzzlement, with her appearing as confused as I.

Al wrapped things up, and we ended the call. As I sat the phone down, Angie asked, “Who was that?”

“Al Kooper”, I responded.

“Al Kooper, the musician?”


“What did he want?”, She asked.

“I got no earthly idea”, I responded, “I guess he just wanted to chat. That was surreal.”

It was the good kind of weird.

What’s not weird is his being in the Hall of Fame. That’s well deserved.

The stuff legends are made of, and Al Kooper is a living legend. Friday night, I’ll see another living legend.

Taylor Swift is returning to Nashville, and my 13-year-old is beyond herself. It’s been fun watching her prepare for the show, dragging up old memories of the anticipation of an Aerosmith or Kiss show when I was her age. It’s nice to know music is still changing lives, and it gives us a bond to cling to.

On Friday, I’ll bury my adult nature and resurrect my inner child. I won’t complain about the weather, the cost of parking, or the headache of navigating a huge crowd. Instead, I’ll embrace the feeling of being in a stadium filled with people united in a common cause, to celebrate the music of Taylor Swift and how it makes them feel alive.

And I’ll cherish my privilege of having a child that still likes to share the important moments with an old man who is often too cranky, too inattentive, too bossy, and not nearly as much fun as he was 35 years ago before the world threw responsibility on his shoulders.

It’s going to be a good, good night. Now if I can just figure out my outfit.

– – –

The big news this week was the confirmation of the inevitable, Tennessee’s Education Commissioner was departing the stage. Her eminent demise has been rumored for several months, but she’d escaped the long arm of accountability on so many occasions, that nobody was going to believe it till they saw it. And on Monday, they saw it.

But of course, no Schwinn exit would be complete without one last Schwinigan. The commissioner has always been hyper-aware of the narrative around her, always seeking to control it. This time would run true to form.

Monday’s schedule provided for a media call at 10:30 – which I never get invited to – followed by a 2:30 call with the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) and a 2:45 call with state superintendents. At 3 the news embargo would be lifted and the general public informed. Not the way it worked.

Around noon, The74, released their story, an exclusive provided by Commissioner Schwinn. It paints our damsel in distress as just trying to do right by kids, while pulled by the evil forces of politics. She tells the online magazine, “I see it as extraneous politics and my job is to educate kids,” she said. “I knew that my charge, first and foremost, was to move our state forward.”

According to the report, last fall, she told Republican Gov. Bill Lee that she didn’t plan to stay through his second term. This seems to contradict a report floating out in the Twitter-verse, that it was his lack of response to the Covenant shooting that sealed the deal for her to leave. Maybe…maybe that’s just another fabrication from a woman who always seems to live in a world of her own creation.

Once an avowed Republican, Schwinn seems to be moving left in order to appeal to both sides. She cites First Lady Jill Biden’s visit to the University of Tennessee to applaud the state’s fledging “Grow You Own” program. Telling The74, ““I have a great relationship with that administration as I serve very loyally my own,” she said, calling Lee “unwaveringly supportive” during her tenure. “He said, ‘Penny, go do your job, and your job is to make sure our kids are accelerating faster than ever before.’ ”

Unfortunately, lawmakers often felt her agenda was overshadowing that of those “elected by the people of Tennessee”.

“I think there’s still a huge lack of communication to the General Assembly and to [local] superintendents and school boards,” State Representative Scott Cepicky (R-Culleoka) said Monday. “I think that was one of the pitfalls of Commissioner Schwinn and her regime.”

One of many pitfalls, I would add. But she’s gone.

She has declined to say what she’ll be doing next, but said she has “quite a few good opportunities”, and expects to make a decision in about a month.

It’s no secret that she’s been looking for months, and job opportunities with the Federal Government and Chiefs for Change never bore fruit. She’s got to do something though, because that mortgage on her new $1.85 million dollar home still needs to be paid.

I suspect she’ll form her own consultancy firm, and organizations like Chiefs for Change, Great Minds, and TNTP, among others, who benefited from her tenure will throw her some bones. I’m not suggesting anything unethical, but unfortunately, this is the way business gets done these days, and education, is definitely a business. A profitable one for some.

Hence, the public servant with a $1.85 million dollar house doesn’t seem to raise anybody’s eyebrows.

So what’s next for the TDOE?

Lee has appointed Dr. Linnette Gonzales Reynolds to become the new Tennessee Commissioner of Education. Who’s that you ask.

Well, she’s a Texan who proceeded Schwinn at the Texas Department of Education. She’s spent the last several years working for ExcellinEd, the group Jeb Bush founded when he grew weary of the other group he founded, Chiefs For Change. The odd part is that nobody I talk to seems to know her personally or has worked with her personally, despite her having over 30 years in education policy.

We are not talking plumbers here. It’s a very small select group of people that work in education policy. They all co-mingle. The fact that nobody has worked with her is …interesting.

Reynolds has never taught a day in the classroom. But I assume she’s been to some parent-teacher conferences so…too soon?

All of this might matter, if we believed that Reynolds would be driving her own agenda. But don’t believe that for a minute. She ain’t doing nothing that Lee doesn’t empower her to do and he’s following his own script likely written by others.

Lizzette Gonzales Reynolds has got three years before Lee’s term expires and she gets to affix the “ex” in front of her title. Three years to finish the work Schwinn and Lee started. An agenda that I’m not even convinced is theirs, and not one crafted by a national entity.

The clue for her priorities comes in her quote to The74, “ESAs are the most flexible form of school choice,” Reynolds said. “I’m excited to take the work we’ve done nationally [at ExcelinEd] and implement our ESA program in Tennessee.”

I wasn’t aware of any success that ExcellinEd had experienced with their voucher program, but then again we still don’t know the extent of their involvement with recently passed TISA legislation that changed how public schools are funded in Tennessee. I assume they work as cloaked in secrecy in other states as they do here.

For a state that prides itself on its individualism and freedom, we sure do let a lot of outsiders pull our puppet strings.

– – –

Imagine my surprise when I opened up a newsletter from Metro Nashville Public Schools advertising a summer advanced math institute where participation was limited to the following groups: American Indian, Alaskan Native, African American, Hispanic/Latinx, and Pacific Islander.

First I was surprised to see that the term Latinx was still being utilized, I thought that canard had been put to bed. Trying to lump all Hispanics into one homogeneous group is rife with issues. But my main question on this program was, how is this non-discriminatory?

I get the need to increase the participation rates in STEM fields by those traditionally underrepresented, but you don’t address discrimination by discriminating.

In elementary school, my son was in an advanced math class with a child who was a Syrian refugee. He was brilliant in math, but he would be excluded from this program because most Middle Easterners identify as white.

Many students who are of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese descent are prevalent in STEM programs and excel, but what about those students who are of Nepalese, Tibetan, or Thai, descent? Nashville is home to a large number of refugees from these countries. Shouldn’t we help them succeed as well?

What about the Black child and the White child who are best friends, it happens frequently. Both are excellent in math and want to work together this summer – to hang together and to learn. This program would allow one to participate while excluding the other. That’s an unintended cost that I don’t think is worth bearing. And a lesson that doesn’t need to be taught.

All of this falls into the scope the State General Assembly was concerned with, how does this not risk pissing them off once again. Fighting is admirable, fighting stupid is not.

Luckily wiser heads have prevailed, and the concerning participation criteria have been lifted. That’s a good thing because this program could be beneficial to a lot of students.

– – –

Nashville is losing a valuable leader. Warner Elementary Arts Magnet School Principal Ricki Gibbs is the new head of elementary schools for LEAD Public Schools. The Nashville-based charter school chain does not currently operate any elementary schools but plans to expand to grades K-4 soon. The hiring of Gibbs is the first step in that expansion process.

While one school loses a principal, another one gains. This week, Dr. Michael Pratt has had the “interim” title removed, and he is now officially Stratford Stem Magnet School’s Executive Principal. This was a move pushed for by the community and goes in the “good guys win” column.

– – –

Seems like not that Commissioner Schwinn is headed for the exit, she actually doing some work. The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) released on Wednesday the names of appointees to the newly created Tennesseans Investing in Student Achievement (TISA) steering committee.

As most of you know, the state is transitioning to a new public school funding model. The newly created committee will advise on implementing the new, student-based K-12 education funding formula, which goes into effect for the 2023-24 school year.

Noticeably absent from the Committee are representatives of MNPS, the second-largest school district in the state, and teachers. The exclusion of either is a bit…stupid…telling…not good…all of the above.

As I reported in the Tennessee Star, when asked about that oversight, MNPS spokesman Sean Braisted told The Star that he’s “not clear on the scope or purpose of the steering committee, so it is difficult to say what impact the lack of representation would have on MNPS, but more representation is generally better.”

MNPS is in the early budget planning stages for the 2023/2024 school year. Braisted said MNPS has “not yet received an estimate on how much state funding will be reserved for charters authorized by the charter commission or ASD.” Therefore, they don’t have an exact figure on how much state funding MNPS will receive.

Braisted said, “The Mayor’s Budget ordinance estimates $280 million which is part of the overall $1.2 billion proposed for MNPS in the budget and represents an increase of about $22 million in state funding over what was budgeted last year.”

Seems like a fair amount cash on the table with no representation.

When it comes to teachers, yes, the appointment list includes Melissa Collins, Teacher of the Year, Memphis-Shelby County Schools and Kyle Loudermilk, Principal of the Year, Kingsport City Schools, but remember that is only 2 educators, in 2 schools, at 2-grade levels. It is impossible to believe that they can adequately speak for the needs of all the teachers in Tennessee.

Lee and Schwinn could have lost Sloyan, Evens, Powers, and Walker, and replaced them with a teacher and a principal from each of the grand divisions and improved outcomes, But instead, its more self important proclamations from the self-designated important folks.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

– – –

Putting this blog together requires a great deal of time and resources, If you think it’s valuable, your support would be greatly appreciated.

A huge shout-out to all of you who’ve already 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.

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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, Christmas is right around the corner.

If you’d like less opinion and more news, check out my writing for The Tennessee Star. It’s a bit drier but equally informative.

Categories: Education

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