THE TVAAS CANARD CONTINUES

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There is one thing that has remained consistent since I began writing this blog 5 years ago: the inability of the state of Tennessee to conduct an error-free standardized test. Normally, this inability would get tossed into the “don’t let the perfect become the enemy of good” bin, but first off, I’m not even sure that we’ve reached good status, and secondly, the stakes are just too high to settle for mere good. If you are going to have a policy that has this kind of impact on the lives on children and teachers, it better be damn near perfect or it needs to be done away with.

State testing started last week, and like it does every year, problems quickly surfaced. It didn’t take long for the same denials and half-truths to again emerge. Though this year, the TNDOE introduced a new creative wrinkle: the tests were hacked. Which, to me, is a head scratcher. Because why bother with a hack when you know you can depend upon the TNDOE’s incompetence to disrupt things? It seems like a whole lot of extra work to get the same result, but I’m sure it will be investigated.

The beautiful thing about writing this blog is that I don’t have to depend upon the official narrative to deliver the truth. I’m blessed to have access to an army of teachers who are equally committed to providing the truth. So while State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen was reassuring us that everything was going well, here’s what was really happening in a middle school last week:

The following is a written account of our testing day on Thursday, April 19, 2018. This was actually a more successful day for us than Monday and Tuesday. The students referenced below were supposed to begin their test session at 9:30am and end by 11:05am. The starting lunch times for these students ranged from 11:25am- 11:45am. 
9:30: 137 students at my school are seated and testing instructions begin.
9:32: During the instruction process, students are directed to login. Students begin experiencing the following problems:
– After entering usernames/passwords, many of their screens freeze.
– Some are able to login, but screen freezes when trying to enter their test-specific access code.
– Some are able to get their test-specific access code entered, but then are knocked out of the test and kicked back to the login screen.
9:50: Four out of 137 students have successfully logged into the test. The other 133 students are continuing the battle by repeating the following process:
Students are having to log off the computer, log back into the computer, pull up the Questar program, and re-enter their username and password. All students repeated this process at least three times before some students were able to get to the next step. Thirty-eight (of the remaining 133) students are finally able to get to the point where a PROCTOR password (8-digit code) has to be manually entered by the test administrator of the classroom. These students wait until the test administrator is able to reach them to enter this special password as it is considered a secure password and we are not allowed to let students enter this password on their own (Please note: there are five labs testing, so each class has between 25-30 students, and each test administrator is having approximately 7-8 students to manually enter the proctor password while still trying to keep record of every individual student’s start time on the test.).  
             
While this is going on, the rest of the students are stuck in different stages of the login process: some are still freezing repetitively at the login screen, some are getting stuck right after the students login. 
Students continue repeating the cycle of logging off, logging back into computer, opening the Questar program, entering their login credentials, etc.
            
As time passes, students slowly get further and further along the login process, as their test administrator is having to run around and manually enter the PROCTOR password while trying to accurately document every student’s starting point.
10:32: All 137 students trying to test are all finally logged in, taking their test.
10:37: Random students begin getting kicked out of the system. After being kicked out, up to 12 students per room are at different phases of the login cycle (having to repeat the same login process outlined above several times before getting back into the test). Once again, the test administrator is responsible for keeping an accurate log of each student’s individual time. 
10:38: Thirty-eight students are still trying to get back into the test after getting kicked out. 
10:52: All students are back into the program (once again, after continuously repeating the login procedures above).
As these issues are taking place, students who are in the program are experiencing the following glitches that Questar has been made aware of, but not fixed:
Students cannot backspace. They are writing an essay, but their backspace does not work in the program. If they try the undo button, it causes more typing issues. Also, there were times that the program randomly stopped allowing them to type. To fix this, they have to hit the back button and go back to the previous question and then go back to their essay to start typing again. Many students had to repeat this process over 10 times during their essay writing. Keep in mind, THIS IS A TIMED TEST and these are 11 – 13 year olds having to fight this program to this extent just to take this test.
11:25-11:35: As their scheduled lunch times pass, students work hard at trying to overcome these challenges to get their essays completed. They just want this to be over.
11:45: Students begin to try to submit their essays. Errors start popping up for the students saying that their computer is not connected to the internet, that their progress is not going to be able to be saved. We are told to have students log off, log back in, and then try to submit. Students then go through the repeated cycles of logging off, logging back in, getting to different stages of the login process before they may or may not get kicked back off or their computer freezes. The test administrator is trying to run to the ones who get to the point of entering the PROCTOR code so they can progress to the next step to hopefully submit their essays.
11:58: Students have surpassed their scheduled lunch time, so we have to end this cycle of trying to submit their tests and send students to lunch (which overcrowds the lunch area and causes issues during lunch trying to get everyone served).
Testing is halted after this for our afternoon session by our district office.
Similar accounts of what testing has been like are happening all across the state.
I don’t know what definition you use for success, but this narrative doesn’t feel like it would fit. McQueen’s definition didn’t work for Tennessee state legislators either. Last week, they passed legislation that proposed to protect schools, students, and teachers. For that, I applaud them. However, they didn’t go quite far enough. This year’s test scores can still be factored into teachers’ TVAAS scores, which are based on three years of growth, and therefore can negatively impact a teacher’s career. Clearly it was the intent of legislators to protect teachers, but they just need to close one more loophole. It’s a correction easily rectified. They just need to replicate what was done in 2016 with the Evaluation Flexibility Act – SB2508/HB1419 (PC No. 172) – which stated that student growth composites would be excluded unless they resulted in higher evaluation scores, with the qualitative portion of the evaluation score increased in its place. That is, if they can’t get completely rid of the tests.
The aforementioned is just the tip of the iceberg, but unfortunately we are under a bit of a time crunch to get action taken, so we have to stick to basics. At the bare minimum, pun intended, we need to make sure our teachers are given equal protection that has been provided to schools. Basically, it’s got to happen this week. So… everyone needs to heed the advice of the Momma Bears and contact the people that can git ‘er done. You need to:
Let’s get to it! We need to get this done. Thank you.
OF MNPS, LITERACY POLICY, AND READING RECOVERY
As I wrote on Friday, there has been a bit of a dust up on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s recent move to decentralize Reading Recovery in the district’s proposed budget for next year. The move has created a continual debate over whether it’s a move rooted in policy or politics. School board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering both posted pieces on the subject this past weekend, and I also talked with several educators I know about it. The result is… more questions and skepticism on Joseph’s motivation.
If Dr. Joseph is making this move solely as a policy move, then what Tier 2 intervention will be provided next year to those children who would qualify for Reading Recovery? What is the budget, and what will the services look like? Because whether there are 1,000 kids or only 5, they still deserve to receive services. If it’s not Reading Recovery, then what is it going to be? Reading Recovery is made up of primarily English Learners and impoverished students; they are, by all accounts, our neediest students. As much as we talk about equity, this is a prime example of what inequity looks like.
Moving current Reading Recovery teachers to the classroom does not constitute as service for those needy kids. Also, keep in mind, many of our current Reading Recovery teachers will be applying their training, paid for by MNPS, in more appreciative neighboring counties. It’ll be interesting to see how many actually make the transition to being classroom teachers. We’ve actually tried this nonsense before. It ended up with a whole bunch of teachers leaving and a greater cost to train their replacements when we realized our mistake. Everyday is Groundhog Day here, I guess.
Next question: in looking at the internal study done by MNPS about RR, it becomes clear to me that we are not getting our bang for the buck out of our Tier 2 interventions in 2nd grade and above, so I ask why not? What programs and strategies are we employing and why are they falling short? If a kid needs intervention in 1st grade, it’s usually tied to a socio-economic issue or a learning disability. Therefore, while Reading Recovery can get a kid up to grade level, it doesn’t “fix” them. The challenges that led to the initial intervention will still remain, and therefore they are still likely going to need intervention resources going forward. So if Reading Recovery delivers 67% of its kids to 2nd grade on grade level, what’s happening after that?
Dr. Joseph argues that Reading Recovery is expensive. Okay, but what does that mean? So it costs $7 million and granted, that is a lot of money. People will say that a Porsche is expensive, but when I compare it, quality wise, to a Kia, is it really? It’s always interesting to me that the cost argument always comes to the forefront when we are talking about services to the poor. If it’s a wealthier demographic, the conversation always focuses on quality. My question again is what is the alternative to Reading Recovery? What is the comparative cost and the comparative value? And if it’s cheaper, why?
By the way, what is the expected result from Reading Recovery? I don’t know that I’ve heard it stated clearly. Just that it currently wasn’t living up to expectations, even though it was highly praised in the past. Again, what does that mean?
Why are we talking about our literacy plan like it’s not a multi-faceted and complex plan? I, for one, would love a simple flow chart that lists the individual programs we utilize, the percentage of the population they serve, which population they serve, and their relative success rates. My need for such a document must stem from the fact that I am just a parent and not an administrator, because I’m told such a document doesn’t exist. Now if you’d like something that tells you how many kids will be reading at grade level by 2025, or is all about rigor or complex text, that’s available. Which do you think would prove more valuable?
QUICK HITS
There is an MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for tomorrow. In looking at the agenda, I don’t see any mention of an evaluation for the Director of Schools. For those not keeping score at home, according to their own policies, the board is to conduct two evaluations a year, one in January and one in June. To date, the January one has yet to be completed.
What I do see on the agenda is some more money for Teach For America. Once again, time to give them some summer school funds. Hmm… do we have a study on their value? Good news is that they still only get a little under $3.5 million. But I’m sure that will grow in the future.
Some principal interviews will be starting to take place in the next few weeks. Antioch HS, Hillwood HS, and Eakin ES are all in the market for a new building leader. Curious to see where Eakin goes – they can give it to the very popular AP or they could try and replicate last year’s process. Sometimes, in the words of Ray Davies, you have to give the people what they want. One of the finalists for Antioch HS is a principal who is currently in charge of a middle school that’s had its own fair share of challenges this year. Probably not the right person for a school that needs healing and love right now.
Nice story in the Tennessean about a retired 96-year-old teacher who got a surprise visit from students she taught in the 1960s. Pretty cool.

I’m just about through the first chapter of Making The Unequal Metropolis and it’s raised a few questions and observations for me.

The book talks about the shift to a focus on education as a means for economic outcomes (i.e., vocational schools) as a driver of inequity. This makes me wonder how our emphasis on STEAM is not just a modern day variation of this. It’s always been about increased property values in Nashville. The author cites the creation of homogenous neighborhoods anchored by a neighborhood school as a major driver of segregation. Does the recent movement towards community schools not carry the same inherent risk of recreating that effect?

These are my initial thoughts. There will be a Nashville Ed Chat community discussion about Chapter 1 of Dr. Erickson’s book coming up on April 28.

There’s a FREE training session for parents or people who know parents of a child receiving special education services. If you’re wanting to be an active participant in your child’s education, but just aren’t sure where to begin, then this session is for you.

The Special Education Advocacy Center and Nashville Rise are joining forces to bring you Knowledge Is Power training sessions for parents of students with disabilities. Learn the ins and outs of special education and gain the tools you need to successfully advocate for your child in the special education system.

Transportation, Child Care, and Interpretation Services provided if requested during registration.

POLL RESPONSES

We got some incredible response to this week’s poll questions. I suspect that a Reading Recovery teacher or two might have been stuffing the ballot box, but you know what they say…vote early and often. Let’s look at this week’s results.

First question asked if you though that Dr. Joseph’s decentralization of Reading Recovery was politically motivated. Out of 207 responses, 157 of you replied, “I do and it bothers me.” Only 7 of you answered, “No. The data supports the move.” I don’t think I need to say anything else. Here are the write-ins:

Not a fan of reading recovery. But this reeks of retaliation. Childish. 1
Absolutely, ticked at all board members that allowed it to happen! 1
yes, but it needed to go 1
It’s messed up. So is the $$$ for IFL and others 1
Absolutely… the research reports were dated March 2018 & April 12, 2018 1
I am not sure, but the program was way too expensive. 1
Clueless about effective literacy instruction: Petty, Lipsey, Felder, & Joseph 1
I’m a reading recovery specialist. What do you think?? 1
Absolutely 1
Not sure, withholding judgement 1
Absolutely! And the only ones who will pay for it are our students. 1
Absolutely! 10000% 1
Are you kidding me?? Of course it is. 1
I think that was the plan from the day he started… two birds, one stone.
Question 2 asked if TN Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen should resign over the repeated testing fiasco with TNReady. Surprisingly, the vote was split. Out of 191 respondents, 51 replied, “Absolutely. You have one job.” And 44 responded, “No. It’s not her fault.” Quite a few of you indicated that you would be okay with her being replaced even if you weren’t strongly calling for her termination.
I must admit the results surprised me, but probably shouldn’t have as I know many teachers have a great deal of personal affection for Dr. McQueen. Here are the write-ins:
Ask the legislators to resign who voted this mess into place. 1
No. That’s by a part of her responsibilities 1
The state legislature should resign… wholesale. 1
I thought it was a contractor issue 1
No. She’s just dealing with Huffman’s legacy. 1
not resign, but go back to drawing board for a total reset 1
She’s dealing with Huffman & his incompetent cronies decisions 1
Not specifically for TNReady issues but over additional problems 1
too complex to answer here 1
No, it’s remiss technology had some issues, but the reaction has been hyperbolic 1
Absolutely. Why free pass for state? Teacher would be fired for same mistake. 1
Technology is not paper pencil… but shouldn’t there be a plan B?
Last question was about the upcoming referendum on Nashville’s transit plan. This one shocked me. I was sure the numbers would go the other way. Out of 183 responses, 100 said they were voting “no” on the plan. A mere 57 said “yes.” That is a little stunning to me, and I would say Transit Plan supporters should be a little concerned. Here are the 3 write-in answers:
That’s a wrap. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

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THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

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On Wednesday, Metro Nashville Public Schools presented their proposed budget for 2018 – 2019 to the mayor. Just for reference, I went back and watched the presentation from last year. Things back then were a whole lot different than this year. Last year, as Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee of the school board, Jill Speering sat next to Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and introduced him to the mayor as “the best superintendent in America.” I don’t think she’d say that this year. I’d like to make a few other observations if you’ll indulge me.

Let’s hit the biggest monkey in the room first, Reading Recovery. After Dr. Joseph made an 11th hour decision – that reeked of retaliation against long-time Reading Recovery advocate and short-term Joseph critic Jill Speering – to end Reading Recovery, that decision claimed center stage in all budget conversations. So much so, that after Dr. Joseph returned to the office from the budget presentation, he took it upon himself to instruct the communications department to send copies of the two studies on Reading Recovery presented to the mayor to every employee in MNPS. A move that baffles me.

Did anybody envision that teachers, right in the midst of conducting the problem-plagued TNReady tests, would receive the email and say to themselves, “Oh, here’s a study on a program that has nothing to do with me. Let me block off 45 minutes to do a deep dive into these two studies and evaluate the methodology and results”? I’m willing to bet that the majority of those who saw the email didn’t open it, and if they did, they thought, “What? They’re canceling Reading Recovery? Jill Speering loves Reading Recovery! This is just trying to get back at her. Shameful.” Ok, I added the shameful part, but I’m sure it didn’t go unnoticed.

In order to evaluate a study, you have to know a little something about the subject. You could send me a study on the effectiveness of Russian warships, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be able to bring anything to the conversation. Because I’m not familiar with Russian subs, the context would be lost on me. But in knowing a little something about Reading Recovery, I can tell you there are problems with some of the methodologies used in the studies.

In comparing Reading Recovery student results and MNPS student groups, the MNPS-conducted study factored out EL students, students with 12 or more family members in the house, and other sub-groups until the end result was a comparison between Reading Recovery kids and the average MNPS student. This causes an issue because the Reading Recovery cohort is made up of kids from all those sub groups. So what you end up with is not exactly an apple-to-apples comparison.

It also bears repeating that Reading Recovery is an intervention program, not a remedial program as Joseph keeps referencing, that is geared for kids in grades K-2. The intent of RR is to get struggling readers up to a grade level where they can take their place with their peers in class. It should be considered one small piece of our literacy policy. We should be assessing the value of the program based on whether or not it delivers kids reading on grade level. After that, the responsibility of continued growth should fall to other components of our literacy plan. RR is not a program designed to “fix” kids, so to evaluate it as such is disingenuous. Once these kids exit RR after 20 weeks, they still come from impoverished homes, non-English speaking families, and homes with more than 12 people living in the house.

Now I will applaud Dr. Joseph for independently evaluating elements of our literacy program, but with this caveat: where are the evaluations of other portions of the literacy plan? Once again, it’s just another version of the same record played all year: we tout implementation – lead testing in water, increasing the number of kids in advanced academics, creating of the LTDS positions (I wish I could tell you what the acronym means, but basically these are fancy literacy coaches) – but we never conduct the follow-up.

With all the consultants and new positions that have been brought in – Sharon and Sharon, creating LTDS positions, Scholastic, World Wide Reading, Bruce Taylor – has a study on their effectiveness been done? Why are we a weighing one individual component’s value independent of the entire literacy policy? And why is the data office speaking to the effectiveness of programing sans input from the curriculum and its head, David Williams?

We’ve never gotten a clear explanation of why MAP test scores were up for one period. Here’s another place where we should probably hear from the head of curriculum. Does Williams have any idea why scores are up and if they are sustainable?

Instead, all we get is an endless parade of back slapping and crowing. Is it too much to ask, what was the cause? Instead we get a study showing the fallibility of Reading Recovery devoid of any context as related to the overall literacy plan. Any teacher with experience will tell you that nothing in schools happens in isolation. If you are a teacher with a great TVAAS score, odds are your kids also have an RTII teacher with great scores. And we all know the role that socio-economic factors play in learning. Since the majority of kids in Reading Recovery are English learners and kids from impoverished families, perhaps that should have played a larger role in the conversation.

That being said, I must admit that I’ve gotten deeper into the weeds defending an individual program than I intended. I certainly respect the right of the Director of Schools to implement any program that he feels will get results without engaging the community. However, I do think you have to be aware of the optics.

I grew up a military brat and can remember my father always telling me that in order to be a general, you had to be as much a politician as a soldier. The same holds true for Directors of Schools. You have to have the ability to view things through the lens of politics as well as the lens of policy. That ability continues to be a weakness for this administration. Always reacting, never leading.

What should have happened is that upon deciding that he didn’t believe in Reading Recovery and wanted to make changes, Joseph should have sat down with a Chief of Staff and the communications department and vetted what it would mean to end a popular program like RR. He may say he was waiting on a study to be completed, but he already had one study in hand, and if he was being transparent he could have alerted people to the possibility months ago, making the transition feel more legitimate.

Joseph should have recognized that his recent conflicts with Speering would cast a shadow over the ending of this program, and he could have tried to sit down with her over the weekend and explain his motivation. I know they are not very fond of each other right now, but it’s been my experience that when the boss is unhappy with me, it’s on me to fix it. Speering is here for a minimum of two more years and can throw a wrench in many of Joseph’s plans; the opposite does not hold true for Joseph. At the very least, a plan could have been developed in order to prevent the appearance of retaliation, and thus, spared us all the drama.

Joseph may also offer the excuse of a lack of a Chief of Staff, since the new Chief can’t start until July. But whose fault is that? I’ve seen previous COS Jana Carlisle’s performance reviews. There is nothing in there that indicated a need to terminate her mid-year. In fact, her reviews were quite good, and it has become obvious that her role was essential. If it was done as a cost-saving measure, I could suggest a few other positions better suited for terminating. If her firing was done, as I suspect, as a move to appease critics, well again, that’s on Joseph.

Some folks have expressed outrage because they don’t feel that Reading Recovery teachers were given the same opportunity to defend their value as the social workers were. Not to offer a defense, but my information has indicated that social workers learning of their pending demise was not by design. So it’s not really fair to make that comparison.

I always tell people perception is nine-tenths of reality. The perception with the general public and MNPS employees is that Joseph cut Reading Recovery in retaliation for Speering calling for an audit. It just so happens I got a chance to listen what happened between Dr. Joseph, Dr. Felder, HR Chief Deborah Story, and the Reading Recovery teachers in a recent meeting, and there are some things I found very interesting. The first being that there is no plan.

The expectation is that Reading Recovery teachers will become classroom teachers. They were told that they will get a $2500 stipend if they go to one of 21 priority schools, as well as a one-time, $1000 signing bonus. A teacher pointed out that one of the schools on the list, Kirkpatrick, is a charter school. After a brief conference among the leadership team, it was concluded that Kirkpatrick is indeed a charter school and therefore there are only 20 schools on the list.

When it was brought to the attention of leadership that there are schools piloting Core Knowledge Learning, a different literacy strategy that is not congruent with Reading Recovery, and that teachers are concerned about sending mixed messages to students, Joseph answered, “That’s only five schools.” Five priority schools. So the list drops to 15.

Teachers pointed out that in order to retain their Reading Recovery certification, they need to conduct 4 one-on-one meetings a day with students and asked when, as a classroom teacher, they will be able to do that. The response was that they will have ample opportunity before school, after school, and during planning time. Remember, most of the kids requiring Reading Recovery services are bus riders. Chief Academic Officer Dr. Felder attempted to console teachers that even if they lose their RR certification, they’ve received knowledge through extensive training that can never be taken away from them and that should be worth enough.

Dr. Joseph then told the teachers that while it’s his druthers that they all become classroom teachers, they are also being encouraged to apply for jobs as literacy coaches (LTDS), advanced academic teachers, Assistant Principals, Deans of Instruction, and that the world is their oyster. However, when he was asked when they will know what jobs they should apply for and the availability of those jobs, he answered, “Hopefully sooner rather than later.” Which basically means “We don’t know because we haven’t thought this through.”

None of the proposed jobs, though, do what these teachers are trained for, which is teaching struggling elementary readers to read. Reusing a previously-used sports metaphor, it’s like going to my star receivers on my football team and telling them they’ll be able to block people, tackle people, throw the ball – anything except for what they have a special and unique skill set for, which is catching the ball. Reading Recovery teachers, like receivers, just want to catch the ball.

I must say that throughout the meeting, the Reading Recovery teachers were incredibly gracious. They laughed at Dr. Joseph’s jokes when appropriate. They were respectful in their questions and they didn’t badger when the answers were less than… answers. I was struck by the fact that the teachers were more concerned with what was going to happen with their kids than what was going to happen with them. But I guess I shouldn’t be; that dedication and concern for their students seems to be a hallmark with all of our teachers.

Some people I know have questioned my passionate defense of Reading Recovery. Let me give you some context. My kids attend a high-needs school made up largely of impoverished kids and English learners. We speak a lot of inequities and these are the kids most impacted by a lack of equity. They are the ones who have taught me just how deeply inequity is ingrained in our neediest schools.

Since his arrival, Dr. Joseph has ended, without research or a plan, a teacher training program that was extremely impactful at our school. We suffered through another year with facilities that were beyond inadequate, much like our feeder middle school McMurray is suffering this year. There were high levels of lead found in our drinking water and that was never communicated to parents. Now, at the 11th hour, a program that, at the very least, has strong anecdotal evidence of high results is being discontinued with no explanation or plan for how its going to be replaced. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

So forgive me if I get a little passionate if the Director of Schools portrays himself as being akin to the Black Panther while my kids and their peers face growing inequities. Forgive me if I get passionate if the Director of Schools tweets out graphics depicting kids on boxes behind fences instead of working to remove boxes and fences for all. Forgive me for getting passionate when the Director of Schools uses kids who need so much as political footballs and as a means of retribution against a school board member who questions his actions.

The Director of Schools talks endlessly of being exonerated at the end of the currently ongoing financial audit. What he fails to understand is that there will be no exoneration. Something has caused school board members to go from calling him “the best superintendent in America” to questioning every word he says. That doesn’t happen by accident, nor does it go away merely because an audit might come back clean. It only goes away if a Director of Schools commits to letting people out of the box and focuses on fixing things. He should be more concerned with the lack of faith in the school system as a result of his actions and policies than he should be with his own reputation. After seeing the movie, I’m pretty sure that’s how the real Black Panther would view things.

QUICK HITS

Can anybody tell me why everything associated with the budget this year seems to cost $7.5 million? Free lunch program, Reading Recovery, money lost to lower enrollment – it’s all $7.5 million. Weird.

One thing that has been brought to light through this year’s budget process is the question of what have we been doing for our priority schools? We had to relocate Title I money because they were arguably under resourced. We have to send Reading Recovery teachers to priority schools because of a dearth of quality teachers. The Director of Priority Schools is also an EDSSI, so they have split responsibilities. Hmmm… why doesn’t she receive an extra stipend? Or maybe she does.

In another head scratcher, it’s been announced today that Pearl Cohn High School principal Sonia Stewart will be taking over the duties of recently-exited Executive Officer of Organizational Development Mo Carrasco. This comes in spite of what we know about priority schools needing stable leadership and Pearl Cohn being a priority school.

What’s clear to me is that we need to take a deeper look at our priority schools and what we are doing. As part of his budget elevator speech, Joseph has voiced a commitment to making our priority schools a priority. My question is, after 2 years, what’s taken so long?

I’m starting to hear about people leaving MNPS for other employment. One that will be missed is Glengarry ES Principal Ricky Gibbs. He’s heading to Memphis. We thank him for his service.

Rumor has it there will some changes in the Human Resources department. I’m also hearing that Director of Literacy Intervention (PreK-12) Tammy Lipsey’s tenure with MNPS is coming to an end as well. I try to be cautious in sharing rumors as these are people’s careers and lives, and we must always respect the real world implications.

MNPS has a new Director of STEAM. Stratford HS Academy Principal Jennifer Berry will assume the role. She’s an 18-year veteran of MNPS. Congratulations and hopefully she’ll fare better than her predecessors.

I know I should be investing more time into this year’s TNReady fiasco. But to be honest, I just don’t have the energy to engage in another round of groundhog day. Especially when Andy Spears and ChalkbeatTN do a much better job of it.

Despite continually beating me over the head about Orton-Gillingham, Anna Thorsen is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s one of the driving forces behind Tennessee becoming more responsive to the needs of kids with dyslexia. There is not a more tireless advocate for special needs kids. Unless it’s Wendy Tucker, who has taken over as the new Executive Director at the Special Education Advocacy Center.

Not to be outdone by the aforementioned women, there is an excellent piece in the Tennessean talking about community activist Tequila Johnson and her work with Nashville’s black churches to increase voter registration. Johnson is the Executive Director for the Equity Alliance, a new Nashville-based nonprofit that advocates for African-Americans and other communities of color to be engaged and empowered.

Vesia Hawkins has a new blog post out that I urge you to read.

A couple of dates that need to go on your calendar:

June 16th is the date for the inaugural Project Lit Summit. If you care about literacy, that’s a must-attend event.

On Saturday, June 9, MNPS is hosting its annual Fatherhood Festival to celebrate MNPS fathers and their important role in students’ lives.

On Monday, April 30th, come to the Overton PAC meeting and hear Overton HS Cambridge Dean Doug Trotter talk about Cambridge integration throughout the cluster. Or, if your school doesn’t have Cambridge, how it can make sure it is properly prepping students for Overton’s program. The meeting is at Haywood ES and starts at 6:30 PM. Come early and socialize.

In case you didn’t catch it, MNPS Transition Team member Dallas Dance has secured residency with the state of Maryland’s correctional facilities today. He was sentenced to 6 months of jail time. I’m betting the facilities won’t be as comfortable as the Nashville Omni, where MNPS put him up when he came to town for all those transition team meetings. One thing that the two establishments have in common, though, is that Dance’s stays in both are paid for with taxpayers’ money. Hope that doesn’t put me at risk for a lawsuit.

One last bit of advice for our Director of Schools: blaming former Mayor Megan Barry for not raising taxes, as you’ve done on several occasions of late, is not a good defense for MNPS financial shortcomings. And also, Tennesseans are not really warm to more taxes, so you might want to keep that talk in your house. Just trying to help.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

 

OF EFFICACY AND EQUITY

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I’m looking forward to the day when I write a piece that focuses on the success of students and fails to mention the inadequacies of adults. Though it doesn’t look like this will be the week for that to happen. So much has happened this week that I hardly know where to begin. Unfortunately, it’s all about adults failing to live up to expectations.

TNNOTReady PART 5

Remember those old Police Academy movies? The first one was a mildly entertaining flick, good for a couple of laughs. By the time they got to Part 8, it was flat-out ridiculous and unwatchable. Currently, the Tennessee Department of Education has decided they want to emulate the arc of those movies using TNReady as the primary player. This year will mark Part 5.

Raise your hand if you were shocked today when reports started trickling out that the testing platform was crashing. Now keep your hand up if you actually started looking for a reason the tests failed or if you just did like me: shrugged and said to yourself, “But of course.” I saw the Tennessean article giving an explanation, but I didn’t read it. To me, this is just business as usual.

This will be at least the fifth year that there have been problems with the state’s standardized tests. By some accounts, there hasn’t been an error-free testing season since Don Sundquist was governor. Raise your hand if you remember Governor Sundquist. Yeah…. it’s been a while. Yet nothing ever seems to get done. I’m sure we’ll reconvene the assessment council, or whatever it’s called, and act like we are doing something about it. It appears that we’ve gotten better at reacting to the failings of the test than we have the administration of the test.

We are not yet up to TNReady Part 8, but already things have gotten ridiculous and unwatchable. I don’t see how you preach accountability to kids while modeling this behavior every year. Oh well. If you would like a more in-depth analysis, as always, Andy Spears is your guy.

MEMPHIS TEACHER BONUSES

According to the latest in Chalkbeat TN, Memphis has a new salary plan for teachers. If you are a teacher with an evaluation score of 3 or higher on a 5-point scale… you are getting a raise. That’s about 96% of Memphis teachers. The teacher evaluation system for Shelby County Schools is based on growth and achievement scores from the state test, classroom observations, and student surveys. It is known as the Teacher Effectiveness Measure, or TEM.

Now, not everybody gets the same raise. If you are a 3, you get $750, level 4 is $1,000, and level 5 is $1,500. Just for laughs, let’s break out the calculator. $1,500 divided by 26 paychecks equals $57. That’s an extra $57 before taxes in a teacher’s paycheck if they are among the best.

The only reason I’m highlighting this is because ideas like this seem to spread quickly, and next thing you know it’s coming to a district near you. Hopefully, I’m not the only one who recognizes problems with this plan. Not only is it a minuscule reward for excellence, but it also sets the richer schools up to get richer due to the fact that adequate resources make it a little easier to be a 5. Hinging a teacher raise on a flawed test and an evaluation influenced by teacher placement is a recipe for disaster. No offense.

BUDGET BROUHAHA

This brings us to the shit show that is the MNPS budget process this year. I really try not to swear in these posts, but please, find me a better way to describe what has been transpiring in Nashville for the last month. It just been one CF after another. Burning up reputations like kindling, in trying to prop these proceedings up.

I know a school board candidate ought not to talk like this, but if you think I’m being too harsh, let’s examine the facts. We’ll start with the cutting of Reading Recovery from the budget. For those of you unfamiliar with Reading Recovery, it’s a Tier 2 intervention meant to get identified early elementary kids reading at grade level in 12-20 weeks. It’s not meant as a long-term solution, but more as a way to get kids to a place where they have the opportunity to compete with their peers and grow at the same rate. It’s one component of an overarching literacy plan.

Based on an internal and an external study, Dr. Joseph is proposing next year that these interventionists become general education teachers in one of 21 high need, low achieving schools. All in one sentence, he explains that Reading Recovery teachers are among the best in the district, but that the program is not getting the desired results. It’s never spelled out exactly what those results are, and just minutes earlier he called the program well-researched and exemplary. It’s kinda like he’s complaining that his F150 isn’t working like his Maserati.

Dr. Joseph likes sports metaphors, and in fact, he invoked one in discussing the proposed cutting of Reading Recovery. In his metaphor, he referred to having really good players on a team that wasn’t winning games, so you have to shake things up. In mine, I say his plan to make RR teachers into classroom teachers is like the Patriots deciding they weren’t winning as many games as they should, and that since all their best athletes were wide receivers, those receivers should become linemen. Because being an athlete is being an athlete, right? You’d ridicule that plan, and you should ridicule this one.

Let me lay some facts on you. First of all, there are requirements for a teacher to retain their RR credentials. A RR teacher must conduct 4 one-on-one sessions a day, plus run small groups in a classroom. Classroom teachers have to teach math, science, social studies, technology, SEL, and a thousand more things every day. So tell me how you envision those two statements aligning. 

At Tusculum ES, our RR teachers have worked with 200 kids this year. Three RR teachers, 200 kids! Three classroom teachers reach 60 kids. Now I don’t have a math degree, and I’m certainly not taking anything away from classroom teachers, but in my eyes, the alligator is eating the RR side.

One more thing. Those RR teachers do more than teach children; they teach teachers. Now I don’t remember seeing anywhere in today’s presentation where that impact was measured. Is it possible that some of the success of the highly-touted MAP results could be attributed to RR teachers working side-by-side with and supporting our classroom teachers? In his recent presentation to the board on MAP scores, Dr. Changas admitted that he couldn’t draw a correlation between any of the district’s strategies and the results, therefore I don’t think you can outright dismiss the input of RR teachers. And until you are able draw a line between strategies and results, you might not want to shake things up too much.

Let’s go back to our sports metaphor. Imagine that the Dolphins and the Jets learn that you are attempting to turn your receivers into linemen. How do you think they’ll react? I bet they’d be burning up the phone lines, calling receivers and telling them to come on over to their team and be receivers. I suspect that’s one thing many of the neighboring counties will be doing. Training RR teachers is an expensive proposition, and if you can get a neighboring district who has already absorbed that cost to give you theirs, why would you miss out on that opportunity?

I recognize that there are counterarguments to mine, and I respect those. That’s why you don’t bring a proposition of this magnitude to the table an hour before the budget is to be voted on. Dr. Joseph would like us to believe that a study on a favorite program of a board member who has been openly questioning him as of late has suddenly been completed the Friday before the final vote on the budget. Really, anybody actively propping up this canard should be ashamed of themselves. If this was truly based on policy instead of personality, this conversation would have begun months ago.

Every policy conversation we have of late is framed through the lens of equity. Well, tell me how is it equitable that 7 social workers were provided a month to plead their very worthy case, while 86 RR teachers learned only today that they were going to be linemen or working somewhere else and are provided no opportunity to plead their case? An alternative suggestion was that they could apply for a literacy specialist position. As board member Gentry said, “We are asking for this expertise to be put into the classroom.”

Do we really not understand how this works? Yesterday, Dr. Joseph sent out an employee email telling teachers how much he values them and that he stays up nights thinking about them. Perhaps instead of just thinking about them, he should spend time familiarizing himself with what they do and their individual qualifications. Hey, I know, some of those RR teachers could become math coaches and put their expertise in the classroom through that method. Because a teacher is a teacher, right?

It’s been mentioned that if schools thought RR teachers were so valuable, they could engage them under their individual school budgets. Under student-based budgeting, every school receives a budget based on the demographics of their school. Those budgets have been completed and turned in already, despite Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse failing to approve a single one of them yet.

The failure to approve these budgets in a timely manner is problematic because a school cannot fill its teacher vacancies until all budgets have been approved. Schools amending their budgets will add further delay to the process. Do you think for a second that the best teachers are sitting around until May waiting to see if they have a position in MNPS? Once again, we are losing valuable recruiting time.

Last night, Narcisse informed the board that any school that wanted to hire a RR specialist would have the opportunity to edit their budget. He presented this in a manner that suggested all a principal had to do was call up and say, “Hey, add an RR teacher for me.” The reality is that those school budgets are tight, and adding an RR specialist means cutting something else. Welcome to the Thunderdome, where everybody fights for survival by justifying their value over others.

I’ve heard people voice their discomfort with the tone these meetings have taken, and on some level I get that. I think some context is necessary though. Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have followed the wishes of the Director of Schools for 18 months and kept everything behind closed doors. During that time they have given unequivocal support to Dr. Joseph in public. They’ve allowed their own personal reputations to suffer in order to help bolster his. Unfortunately, he did not treat their reputations as precious as his own.

It’s apparent that answers behind closed doors didn’t align with what was happening in schools. Contracts were brought to light that didn’t match what the board had approved. Evidence surfaced that purchasing policies were not being followed, and the only explanation the board could get was that it only happened a small percentage of times. Procedures are created to be followed 100% of the time, not 96% or 94% of the time.

Lost in all the hub bub is the fact that Metro’s auditor announced yesterday that his office is no longer conducting just an audit. It has also begun an investigation of “allegations of impropriety in Metro Nashville Public Schools procurement practices recently reported by NewsChannel 5 investigates, and reports received on [the] fraud, waste and abuse hotline.” That alone warrants these issues being brought to the board floor.

I have no doubt that Speering and Frogge hate addressing these issues on the board floor as much as we hate hearing them, but if policy isn’t being followed, and talking behind closed doors isn’t changing, what is a board member’s recourse? The fact that the Chief of School’s wife is receiving a stipend, on top of a generous salary, to do an unidentified job, and travel on trips that don’t seem to align with the strategic plan would be a huge red flag to me.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the paying of the stipend to me is no different – minus the salacious details – than the circumstances that led to Mayor Barry being removed from office. Again we speak of equity, so where is the equity in holding one person accountable while giving a pass to the other? Those are taxpayer funds that are enriching a public employee’s household coffers.

Not only that, but after 5 years, under Tennessee state policy, that household will be vested in the state’s pension program, the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System. At retirement, they will be eligible for a pension based on those salaries. In the case of the Gonzalez-Narcisse family, that equates to roughly $350k a year. Not bad work if you can get it.

MNPS has a salary schedule. That schedule lists what employees should be paid based on years of experience and levels of education. It’s designed to keep salaries… wait for it… equitable.

According to the salary schedule, an elementary school principal with a master’s degree maxes out at roughly $100k. The same principal at the high school level maxes out at roughly $116,500 a year. Carolyn Cobb, an elementary school principal and close personal friend of Monique Felder, makes $120k a year. And we are paying for half of her tuition to procure her doctorate. Which, once she procures, will make her eligible for yet another salary increase.

EDDSI’s with a doctorate max out per the pay schedule, based on years of service, at $124,989. Karen Desouza-Gallman, a recent transplant from Prince George’s County and also in the same doctorate cohort as Cobb, makes $124,779. Latricia Gloster, another Prince George’s County transplant, makes $117,636, the maximum for an EDDSI without a doctorate. In short, people who have moved from Prince George’s County to Nashville are receiving higher salaries than educators with more qualifications and longer tenure in MNPS. A point that Dr. Narcisse acknowledged in a meeting several months ago.

When Amy Frogge brought a motion to the floor to add an amendment to the budget that calls for the district to adhere to the established salary schedule, she was met by laughter from budget and finance chair Tyese Hunter, and Dr. Joseph once again raised the specter of litigation. Which, I have to ask, who is going to sue who and for what? Are any of those facts untrue? Dr. Joseph has alluded to hindering people’s ability to earn money, but I don’t know how pointing out facts and offering opinions based on those facts leads to a litigable offense.

Not too long ago, I asked Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson why some of these folks made salaries that were not aligned with the salary schedule. He responded that Dr. Joseph has the right to pay folks whatever he sees fit. I then said, so the schedule is merely arbitrary. A statement that caused Henson to take umbrage, but he was never able to offer a counter argument. The definition of inequity is lack of equity; unfairness; favoritism or bias. Not adhering to the established salary schedule for friends and family would seem to meet that bar.

I’m going to have to wrap up this episode now. Otherwise this piece will eclipse the length of War and Peace. But I will be working on another piece examining how budget talks have revealed how little we’ve done for our priority schools over the last two years, fake news, sunshine laws, and I’m sure much more. Thank you for your patience.

POLL RESULTS

This week’s questions received the most responses of any to date. As always the results are very interesting. Let’s get to them.

The first question asked for your opinion on a proposal to limit raises to just those making under $125k. Out of 175 responses, 64% of you voiced that you fully supported the proposal and another 19% felt it was a move that the administration should initiate themselves. That translates to 83% of you supporting the limiting of raises. Pretty clear to me. Here are the write-ins:

Good if temporary 1
Focus on increasing funding and elevating teachers’ salaries 1
I say bump it down to $100,000. 1
Limiting the top still doesn’t help the bottom. 1
I support it, but would much rather see salaries for veteran teachers raised 1
Support staff should be at least $30 k 1
It reminds me of the time Congress voted in their own pay raises. 1
depends on how the savings would be used 1
Why are we raising pay gaps from our lowest employees? Percentages aren’t equal. 1
They are making too much money anyway. 1
Is it ethical that all Dr J’s friends all make that much?? 1
There are some making more who deserve even more. But teachers are desperate. 1
It would violate he policy 1
No problem with it. It is commonplace in the private sector.

Question 2 asked for your thoughts on an instance that happened during public comment where board members were labeled as participating in a public lynching of the Director of Schools after openly questioning him. 159 of you responded to this one, with 48% indicating that they found it disturbing. 28% felt that the Director of Schools should have spoken up when the accusation was made. What makes me sad is that 7 people felt it was an accurate depiction.

Lynching is one of the most horrific acts I can imagine, and to equate it with anything that happens in a public board room undercuts its severity. It like using the word “rape” to describe any action other than a sexual assault. It is perfectly legitimate, though I disagree, to argue that board members were disrespectful. Maybe even undermining. But let’s be clear, nobody was lynched in that board room.

Here are the write-ins:

it was an absolute disgrace, and seemed like a plant. 1
Dr. Joseph seems focused on segregating our schools 1
Apparently adults need to be in my ELA class for convos about connotation. 1
Dr Joseph & MNPS are harming black children 1
Terrible comment made by ONE individual. 1
It bothers me, but I’m not surprised. 1
Diversion for the smoke & mirrors… not taking responsibility 1
I think Joseph invited that guy to come in and lambast his critics. Shameful. 1
It is race-baiting done by people of ill-will.

The last question is derived from a statement by Dr. Joseph during a recent interview that he didn’t consider these hard times. So I asked, do you consider these hard times? Out of 164 responses, 64% indicated that they find these to be hard times. An additional 18% acknowledged that the budgeting process was harder this year. Not one person responded that things were running smoother and only one respondent indicated that they felt we had a handle on things.

If Dr. Joseph truly believes that these are not hard times, then he’s clearly in the minority. Empathy means understanding and validating how others are feeling. It’s an essential trait of an effective leader. The acknowledging of difficulties can serve to unite people in a common cause. Failure to acknowledge difficulties indicates that the leader is either too isolated from the general public or disingenuous. Neither inspires followers.

Here are the write-in votes:

[As a side note, I’d love if the person who wrote that It’s hard being black in America and this process + blog showcase this fact would elaborate. Perhaps we could sit down and conduct a dialogue for publication. My email is norinrad10@yahoo.com.]

This. is. a. mess. 1
Read this book, what is happening here is a national trend:Many Children Left Behind 1
It’s hard being black in America and this process + your blog showcase this fact 1
Parents should be encouraging teachers to strike 1
About time upper level got a shake down instead of the teachers! 1
We’ve had worse. 1
Only because of bad leadership 1
Chickens coming home to roost. 1
Yes, money being taken from direct services to kids and put into ‘office’ people 1
Any extra difficulty is self-imposed. 1
Yes. MNPS has been invaded by grifters. 1
Yes. We are fighting for sanity and respect both inside and outside of school 1
People only pay attention when it affects them personally 1
We need a no confidence vote on Dr Joseph.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

NASHVILLE’S COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE

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I swear, you can’t make up the things that have transpired during this budget season for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools if you tried. If it wasn’t all so tragic, it would be comedic. When Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph arrived two years ago, he suggested we all read Leadership and Self-Deception. Surely he didn’t intend for it to be ironic, but after this week, I’m not so sure.

Wednesday, Dr. Joseph continued his “Have Mic, Will Travel” tour by appearing on News Channel 5’s Open Line show with Ben Hall. He was so impressed with his performance on the show that he felt compelled to email a copy of it out to every Nashville resident with an active email account. I’ve watched it several times, and frankly, I’m baffled by what he thinks the message is that everyone needs to hear.

Before I offer some views on the actual content of the interview, let me speak to the endeavor as a whole. You know that brother-in-law of yours, the one who comes around to borrow your lawn mower, or power drill, or car? You know, the one that as soon as you see him getting out of his car in front of your house, you’re pulling the drapes and locking the door because you know he’s only there for one thing. He’s the one who only talks to you when he needs something or you can do something for him.

The same holds true if you are a Director of Schools and no one has ever seen you on a microphone throughout the year. School bus issues? Somebody else grab the mic. Chaotic school cancellations due to inclement weather? Where’s Chris? Give him the mic. Lead in school drinking water? Certainly don’t expect the Director of Schools on the mic for that one. Don’t think it hasn’t been noticed either. So if you are suddenly the congenial guest of every media outlet in the country, forgive people if they hide their wallet, because it’s pretty clear you are out to sell something.

I don’t want to spend too much time dissecting the interview, because frankly, with apologies to my Republican friends, fact checking Dr. Joseph is a lot like fact checking Trump. It gets exhausting, and there never seems to be any correction. So unless I can check a claim with just a couple of key strokes, I don’t even bother anymore. Sorry, but there is only so much time in the day. If you are not familiar with what I’m talking about, Board Member Amy Frogge does a pretty though job of laying it out.

The tone of the interview is set fairly early on when Hall remarks to Joseph that these appear to be difficult times. Joseph responds that he doesn’t think they are particularly hard, and being an urban superintendent is always hard. Huh? I know what Joseph’s going for here – that cool guy who remains unruffled in times of crisis – but I don’t think that works here.

These are difficult times. You don’t pack the board room on four different occasions for public comment on the budget if things are going smoothly. If they are going smoothly, people are content to stay home and let you drive, confident you are leading them in the right direction. Sometimes calming the waters requires acknowledgement. Does he really think that all those people who are feeling agitated by the budget process, the releasing of social workers, the loss of free lunch, are going to hear him say “it’s not hard” and then suddenly reconsider their position?

Failure to admit that these times have been difficult sends one of two messages. Either you are so disengaged and removed from what’s transpiring that you don’t understand the difficulties, or you are being disingenuous. And if you are being disingenuous about the degree of difficulty, what else are you being disingenuous about?

Just say, “Yes, this has been a hard one.” Nobody will fault you or think less of you. You could even offer some qualifiers, like “It’s only our second Nashville budget,” or “We underestimated a few elements.” Acknowledgement of the difficulties might even earn him a few sympathy points, and Dr. Joseph might not realize it, but he is need of those points.

There are really only two other observations I want to share about this interview. The first is to note how much Joseph is doubling down on both his prediction of the results of the pending audit of MNPS finances and the results of the recently completed MAP tests. He’s like that guy in Vegas who’s lost 15 times in a row and responds by pushing all his chips in on Red 13. Hoping his number comes up and all his losses will be wiped clean.

Who knows what the audit will show. Maybe everything will fall in line, but even if it does, Joseph will not suddenly be exonerated. No matter what the outcome, there is a legitimate reason, tied to the administration’s conduct, why board members felt a need to ask for a financial accounting. That “why” will need further exploration. If things turn up clean, there still needs to be a rigorous self-evaluation of what contributed to such a breach of trust and how that can be mended and avoided going forth.

Standing and pointing fingers while saying “Nah Nah” will not help regain that trust. Neither will taking a smug and condescending tone. An old football coach of mine used to say that when you got to the end zone, don’t celebrate; act like you always expected to be there. I’ve always found that to be advice that transcended football. It should also be pointed out that it wasn’t too long ago that former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry also welcomed an audit. Just saying.

The doubling down on the MAP scores is an equally troubling bet. Let’s just say for the sake of argument that those results are 100% legitimate. They are still only indicative of one test, not a trend. My friend Andy Spears tried to warn the state about making the same mistake when it came to NAEP scores 4 years ago. They didn’t listen, but Dr. Joseph might want to heed the example.

The second observation I’d like to make on the interview is in relation to Dr. Joseph’s response to Ben Hall’s question about remarks made during public comment at the previous night’s budget hearing. One gentleman referred to school board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering’s questioning of the Director as a “public lynching,” and Hall wanted to know what Joseph though of the comment. This was one of those softballs that should have been hit out of the park.

Joseph could have taken the opportunity to showcase his leadership qualities and respond with something like, “Look Ben, we’re talking money and people are always passionate about money. But we all should probably take a minute and recognize that while we are passionate, we are also role models for 88 thousand kids. We all need to be sure that we don’t lose sight of that and that our passion doesn’t lead us to conduct ourselves in a manner we wouldn’t want kids to emulate.” Or something like that. It was an opportunity to demonstrate a cool head and statesman-like demeanor.

However, that’s not the road Joseph chose. Instead, while he did disavow the comments, he did so in a manner that was devoid of real depth. He said he doesn’t use that language. He tries to not engage in those kinds of conversations. Perhaps it’s due to his Christian faith, he offered. And another opportunity to show why he is the man to lead the district slipped away.

Watch the rest of the tape at your leisure. I’m not sure that it’ll change your mind on anything, but what the heck. For now, let’s move on to Thursday and bear witness to the next train wreck.

On Thursday, board members were preparing for a Friday/Saturday board retreat. The budget was scheduled to dominate the agenda. News Channel 5 noticed that the meetings did not appear on the board calendar nor on the district’s website, at mnps.org. They were also absent from the schedule of budget-related meetings that the district had publicized. In short, this was in violation of Tennessee State Sunshine Laws.

I know, the most transparent administration evah is violating Sunshine Laws. I almost called this post “Isn’t it Ironic?” Trust me, we’re not done with the irony either.

After Channel 5 publicly called attention to the snafu, Board Chair Tyese Hunter announced that the meetings were canceled because they had “inadvertently” not been posted. To add another layer to the chaos, earlier in the day, the district’s public information officer told Channel 5 that the meetings had been canceled weeks ago. That was later amended to, “We are waiting to hear from our attorneys.” Unfortunately, an agenda had been emailed out from central office shortly after 10 AM that very morning, undermining the whole narrative. Maybe it is a communication problem.

Thursday night, the last of three public budget hearings this week was held. Prior to Hunter opening the floor for public comment, board member Frogge brought forth a proposal to limit the pending 2% raise for district employees to only those making less than $125K. That was shot down 6-2, with only Jill Speering supporting Frogge. Budget Committee Chair Tyese Hunter later remarked that restricting salary increases for those that make $125,000 a year or more pits employees against each other. Yeah, I told you we weren’t done with the irony.

This whole budget process has been all about pitting schools and communities against each other. A free lunch program for some but not all. Title I money for some, but not all. Extra funding for some programs, like STEAM, but little increase for others, like English Learners. I know some will argue that this is how the budgeting process inherently works. I would counter argue that we have to do better, and we have in the past.

The Reverend Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Baptist Church spoke out during the public comment portion of Thursday night’s meeting. He drew attention back to Frogge’s proposal when he admonished leaders about saying that it was all about the children while benefiting from a pay raise during a time of tight budgets. “Public employees that are making 6 figures who can’t take a 4 figure pay cut, you don’t tell me the children are important. If you are making 6 figures and you can’t take a 4 figure pay check for a number of years while things get on track, you don’t care about no children. You care about yourself.” He reminded us all again that your budget is your public demonstration of your morals. I hope someone was listening.

QUICK HITS

Much of the budget talk centered around the social workers that were being displaced. I think many of us are unclear on exactly what role social workers serve and the differentiation of what exists and what is being proposed. It is in order to add some clarity that I want to share these remarks that were sent to me by someone who understands the difference:

In Dr. Joseph’s interview on Channel 5 tonight, he stated that CIS was bringing in 18 new social workers. This is misleading. Social work is a specifically defined profession, as in, if you don’t have a degree in social work, you can’t call yourself a social worker. School social workers carry a special licensure from the state that requires a minimum of a master’s degree. The CIS positions are for “site coordinators” and only require a bachelor’s degree and it doesn’t have to be in social work. I feel like this is misleading yet again. 

CIS primarily does case management and they refer out for mental health counseling which brings up a host of issues like insurance, transportation, time, immigration status etc. school social work is successful because we’re in the buildings where kids are, we don’t bill insurance and we’re not another thing for a parent to do. That isn’t to say we don’t refer out extreme cases or refer out for medication when warranted, but most of it is handled in school.

I always say, I’ve got the best readers.

We often talk about our EL students and their lives, but I wonder how many of us truly understand the depth of challenges that they face. This is a story relayed to me by a district soccer coach that I think we all benefit from by hearing:

After our match tonight, I was talking to one of my players from Burundi. His story is important.

He was sitting in school at the age of 11 or 12 when he heard gunshots and explosions. In his words, “the war it is coming.” They evacuated the school and he ran home to find his parents and all but one of his siblings executed. 

He fled into the jungle and was able to find a group of others fleeing – and the group included his brother. Eventually, they made their way to refugee camps

and then to the United States. My player and his brother currently live with a foster family from Malawi. He told me soccer is his release. It makes him happy.

I’ve heard a lot of players and parents laugh at how we wear mismatched jerseys and shorts, taped numbers, and socks with holes. I’ve heard people mock my players for their language and skin color. I just wish those people could know these stories.

Soccer is more than a sport for many of my guys. This is their joy. This is why I coach.

Mark June 9th down on your calendar. That’s the date for this year’s MNPS Fatherhood Festival. Talk to anybody who went last year and they’ll you it’s an event you don’t want to miss. Expect more details to follow.

Mark those calendars again: our next Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Council (PAC) Meeting is Monday, April 30 at 6:30 pm. Join us at Haywood Elementary School to celebrate the many successes within our cluster, discuss any challenges, and vote for local PAC leadership.

If you haven’t checked out the Hillsboro Globe, a student-run, AP-accredited newspaper, you need to do so. It gets better all the time.

Testing season in Tennessee is almost upon us. Peter Greene takes a deeper look at why we test. His conclusion:

I don’t know the answer. But I do know what we should do next.

Stop.

Just stop.

Cancel the BS Tests. Throw them out. Have an honest conversation about which of the above goals are worth pursuing and how best to pursue them. That will take time; it won’t be easy. Maybe there will be a place for the right tests, used correctly, in the future. Maybe. But what we have now continues to do serious damage to US public education. It’s costing us so much, both in terms of money and human toll and opportunity costs, and it is giving us nothing in return.

Can’t say I disagree.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. Your opinion is vital. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

 

 

 

 

ONE FOR THE BOOKS

4

Budget season in MNPS continues to march on, and it continues to be one of turmoil. Fresh off of spring break, and several reports from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams looking at district fiscal policy, Metro Nashville Public Schools held two more budget hearings this week. Two more meetings that highlighted the district’s inability to provide verifiable data that would allow for a meaningful conversation on next year’s proposed budget. These meetings also highlighted the administration’s unique ability to appear incompetent while still benefiting from that incompetence.

This year, as opposed to previous years, the budget was released piecemeal with several corrections to data that reflects the current year’s finances. For example, at Monday’s meeting it was revealed that the Director of School’s salary, along with those of the Chiefs, was initially presented incorrectly. The salary listed reflected the 3% raise that was awarded to MNPS employees last year. That raise was not given to senior administrators, but the line item was never corrected in the budget. This translated to miscalculated budgetary items regarding the Director of Schools and senior administrators’ salaries proposed for next year that was luckily caught by a board member before going forward for approval.

I listened to Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson laconically explain this correction at Monday’s meeting with mouth agape. But I shouldn’t be surprised, because this year’s budget has been riddled with errors, more so than any year I can remember. A couple of weeks ago, during one budget meeting when a board member started questioning individual school allocations based on information distributed by the district, she was stopped and informed that the information had been revised. It wasn’t the projected information that had been revised, but rather the numbers for the current fiscal year.

At a later meeting, it was discovered that a whole column had been miskeyed and needed revision. When the veracity of line items is under question, it comes virtually impossible to have a meaningful conversation, and as a result, the community has quickly grown frustrated. Throw in staff reductions, perceived areas of need, social workers, and truant officers, along with the loss of a vital free lunch program – all amid reports of questionable spending – and what we are left with is a process that seems incredibly broken.

Somehow, though, this turmoil and dysfunction is going to facilitate the passing of Dr. Joseph’s budget virtually untouched. The entire budget was not revealed until March 27th and was immediately followed by spring break. Public commentary was scheduled the first days back from spring break. Next Tuesday, the board votes on the budget, and the following week it will be presented to the mayor. So despite the impressive turnout for public commentary, there really is little time for any meaningful changes to occur, which gives the proceedings a sense of orchestration.

In attempting to construct a meaningful conversation, there is nothing more frustrating than a lack of concrete information. It’s one thing to have a point/counterpoint conversation; it’s quite another to have every point met with a revelation that the information you are basing your point on is not factual. For example, let’s look at board member Jill Speering’s revelations on Executive Director of Equity and Diversity Maritza Gonzalez receiving a stipend in addition to her 6-figure salary:

On March 7, HR reported “… according to payroll records this year, Maritza Gonzalez had NOT received any stipends or extra compensation.”  Consequently I was provided a document from an employee at central office that proved Gonzalez did indeed receive a stipend of $24,168.29.  Upon further investigation, On April, 4 I received a very different story.  And I quote:

“Five employees (Maritza Gonzalez, Amy Wyatt, Antoinette Williams, Terry Schrader, and Vanessa Garcia) all went from being Executive Officers to Executive Directors as part of central office reorganization. Their salaries went from $155K to $130K. The decision was madeto keep their salaries intact through the end of the fiscal year. This necessitated treating the difference in pay as a ‘stipend’ rather than as ‘salary.’ That difference in pay (about $961/pay period) goes away at the end of this fiscal year when the new budget takes effect. The reorganization occurred at the beginning of our current fiscal year, hence the stipend is for one full fiscal year.”

When I checked with Mrs. Garcia, Mrs. Williams, and Mr. Shrader, each confirmed, they had NOT received additional compensation.Which means the only person who received a $24,000 stipend was the wife of the Chief of Schools, Maritza Gonzalez. 

The district has since revised its official explanation to read as follows:

Ms. Gonzalez’ base salary is $130,831.71 per year.  The reduction from $155,000 took effect July 1, 2017 when her title was changed from Executive Officer to Executive Director.  However, the anticipated reorganization of staff and responsibilities that went with that reduction was placed on hold due as the school district works to fill the Executive Officer for Communication and Community Engagement position.  Once that position is filled, family engagement will move to a new office. Ms. Gonzalez agreed to continue with her previous responsibilities until the other position was filled.  Consequently, she has received a per pay period stipend of $929.55 for those continued responsibilities.  When the reorganization is complete, the stipend will be discontinued. 

Houston, we’ve got a problem. A look at the district organizational chart fails to back up the later claim. It shows a $131K a year administrator supervising one employee, aided by an administrative assistant. There are only a handful of people making over $130k a year in the district. I don’t think it is an unrealistic expectation that the Chief of Human Resources, who herself is making $170k, be familiar with the responsibilities of that small handful of people. I also believe it’s extremely problematic when the wife of the Chief of Schools is the only person receiving a stipend that puts her among the 10 highest-paid employees of MNPS, despite a lack of commensurate experience.

Last month, we dragged Mayor Megan Barry out of office over her bodyguard/boyfriend making an extra $170k. Minus the salacious details, I see no difference between Rob Forrest/Megan Barry and Maritza Gonzalez/Sito Narcisse. We were told five MNPS employees had their salaries reduced substantially last year, but only one, who happens to be the wife of the Chief of Schools, received a stipend to supplement those lost wages. A stipend that took nearly a month, after an initial denial, in order for central office to craft a semi-plausible explanation for its existence.

Equally hard to explain is exactly what Gonzalez does to earn her elevated salary. There is mention of community engagement work, but the district’s Parent Advisory Committee still lays dormant despite holding a couple of organizational meetings this past year. Only the Overton, Stratford, and Hillsboro PACs are currently active and that’s only due to parental initiative and support from the administrators in those cluster schools. Districtwide, 22 months later, there is still no communicated vision of what family engagement is even proposed to look like, let alone a functioning strategic plan.

I would be remiss here if I did not mention that the Department of Family and Community Engagement has conducted a series of very successful parental education sessions through their Parent University program. But that has little to do with Gonzalez and can be attributed to interim director Pam Burgess and her hard working team. The final session this year will take place on Thursday, April 12th, at 10 AM at the West Police Precinct. Attend if you can.

Getting back to Gonzalez, the unofficial narrative around her responsibilities is that she travels. She travels a lot. Earlier in the year I put in an open records request on Gonzalez’s travel and was initially told there was none. When I questioned that, it was discovered that she did travel, just not on the district’s dime.

Between July 1, 2017 and December 1, 2017, Gonzalez attended 4 conferences paid for by outside sources. Two of those trips were paid for by the Racial Equity Leadership Network (RELN). Gonzalez is a 2017 Fellow for this organization, whose stated mission is “to gather five times to intimately dive into both the racial equity challenges and opportunities that exist within their respective school districts, as they work to realize authentic change and more equitable outcomes for the students in their systems.” Gonzalez also attended both the Deeper Learning spring conference and a 3rd gathering of RELN Fellows this spring.

While no district money was spent on travel for these conferences, I question when Ms. Gonzalez found the time to convey the information gathered at conferences back to district employees. Trips every month translates into a lot of absences. Frequent absences leave it to others to fill her district responsibilities.

Now if all these instances I just related were isolated incidents, I’m pretty confident that board members Speering and Frogge would have both continued to communicate primarily behind closed doors. Over the last 22 months, they, along with the other 7 board members, have been extremely disciplined in following Dr. Joseph’s directive of communicating only with him. Quite frankly, this lack of communication with the public also came with the detriment of personal relationships and reputations. Board members made it clear that they had made a commitment to Dr. Joseph and they meant to honor it.

But I think it’s safe to say, based on the litany of questions and concerns raised by both Speering and Frogge, Dr. Joseph and his team were not holding up their end of the bargain. They were failing to provide board members with accurate information in a timely manner. Dr. Joseph will point to his 60-page weekly missives as a counter argument, but I’d argue those reports are merely an attempt to hide trees in the forest.

Whatever the case, it’s very apparent that two respected board members had reached a tipping point. Both raised their questions in a deliberate and level manner. In no manner were there “inappropriate outbursts,” as described by Dr. Joseph. It was clear that they had done their research and put a lot of thought into presenting their concerns. Dr. Joseph’s response was to voice displeasure at their perceived breach of protocol and to lecture them about hypothetical ramifications devoid of any recognition of their past 22 months of blind loyalty. Amazing how fast that Arbinger training flew out the window.

During a break in the budget committee meeting, a conversation between Frogge and Joseph was captured by live mic that was inadvertently not muted. I always say you shouldn’t judge people by what they say when they know you’re listening but rather by what they say when they think you are not listening. In that light, this conversation was quite revealing and not at all flattering to Dr. Joseph.

To begin with, there is nothing quite like a non-lawyer lecturing an actual lawyer about possible exposure to litigation. At one point Joseph says, “One thing I don’t do is anything illegal with money.” Ok… that is strangely reminiscent of former district employee, and long time friend of Joseph, Mo Carrasco’s defense when accused of sexual harassment when he said “I’m innocent until proven guilty.” I’m not sure why Joseph felt the need to raise this defense, because at this point nobody has accused him of illegal behavior, just sloppy and potentially unethical behavior.

At one point, Frogge is heard saying, “I don’t work for you.” That point needs to be reiterated. We all have bosses. Our bosses seldom do everything we want them to, but we defer to them because they are our bosses. I think there would be repercussions for all of us if we were to fail to acknowledge criticism from our boss and instead publicly disparaged them. I would think Shawn joseph would take exception if any of his principals were to conduct themselves in a similar manner. We don’t have to like our bosses, but it is imperative that we show them respect.

I stress to the kids on the baseball team I coach that making a mistake is not what is important, but rather it’s what you do after the mistake that matters. What this budget process has clearly revealed is that Dr. Joseph has, at the minimum, made mistakes over the last 22 months. The question is, what does he do now? He clearly needs a good strategy. Early indications aren’t exactly encouraging though.

Getting defensive with those who are merely fulfilling the requirements of their job is not a good strategy. Pressuring principals to come speak to the virtues of your proposed budget is not a good strategy, especially when, despite a concentrated effort, you can only produce six principals. Rolling your eyes, shaking your head, and smirking while an elected board member voices their concerns is not a good strategy. Packing the board room with your fraternity brothers and having them refer to the previous night’s questioning as a “public lynching” is not a good strategy.

I don’t pretend to know who the Director is taking advice from, but I hope they are advising him not to underestimate the precipice he is standing on. For the first time, I’m beginning to hear people openly wonder if this is the beginning of the end. The answer to that question lies with Dr. Joseph himself.

As always, I have no vested interest in whether he lasts or does not last in his position. My focus remains on the implementation of policies rooted in best practices based on research and supported by data. Ideally, for the sake of stability, Dr. Joseph will adjust and amend behaviors, thereby reestablishing trust. But that’s going to take some heavy lifting.

In closing, I’d like to report on some positive news. Kevin Stacey and Molly Stovall gave a presentation to the board last night on the state of the district’s English Learner programs. If you haven’t watched it yet, I urge you to. The presentation starts around the 53-minute mark.

23% of all students in MNPS require EL services. There are 787 EL teachers with 16 coaches. That’s right, only 16 coaches. The EL budget has basically been flat for the last three years. Dr. Joseph talks about infusing $2 million into EL services, but that money is primarily for hiring new teachers in order to be compliant with state-mandated teacher-to-student ratios. Despite these challenges, the department produces work that inspires Jan Lanier, the director of EL for the Tennessee Department of Education, to publicly say that MNPS has done in 3 years what the state thought would take 5 years. Thank you Kevin, Molly, and all of you MNPS EL teachers for your tremendous dedication and accomplishments.

THE FORECAST CALLS FOR MORE STORMS

1

Welcome back, MNPS students and teachers. Hope everybody had a fantastic reprise last week. As my son has informed me throughout spring break, we now have 34 more days until summertime. While things might have quieted inside district school buildings, outside storms continued to rage over district initiatives, spending, and the 2018-2019 budget.

I must also confess that I started this post before the events at Monday’s Budget/Finance Committee transpired. In fact, I almost scrapped this piece, but I believe there are some points that are extremely relevant to the ongoing conversation, and so, I’m getting this out. Look for a follow-up tomorrow.

On Thursday and Friday of last week, Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams began a series of reports showing MNPS was not following its own purchasing protocols and was continuing to utilize friends from the Northeast as primary resources for educational support. These reports come on the heels of an already heated debate over enrollment projections and next year’s proposed budget. In response to the heat, and I’m assuming anticipation of the upcoming news stories, the normally media-shy Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph grabbed his microphone and hit the airwaves, making stops at Channel 2 and Channel 4, and even doing the podcast Nashville Sounding Board. All told, the Nashville community was given a whole lot to digest last week.

It would take hours to dissect and put into context all of the information made available last week, but there are a couple of things I would like to point out. I’ve heard the argument raised that the majority of Dr. Joseph’s problems spring from a subpar communications platform. The argument being that policies and implementation just aren’t communicated well and so the perceptions become ones of incompetence and mismanagement.

While I don’t fully buy into that argument, I’m willing to give it some credence. The district continually seems to communicate in a reactionary matter and is seldom proactive. Instead of telling parents about water issues, they wait for the story to break on the local news. Instead of alerting people to changes in free lunch programs, they wait for the story to break on the news. Instead of explaining enrollment shortfalls and the subsequent loss of funding, proactively they wait for the local news to break the story ahead of time. Once the story breaks, they cry fake news and inaccurate information and rush to defend themselves. In other words, they consistently allow somebody else to shape the narrative before they tell their story and then play the victim when the story doesn’t suit them.

You would think that after two years of wash, rinse, repeat, that somebody would hold a meeting where an actual communications strategy was discussed and implemented. By now, somebody has surely realized that the actions of district leaders are being closely scrutinized, there are no secrets, and just hoping nobody notices is not a communications policy.

Take this year’s budget process, for example. It’s been a dumpster fire when it didn’t have to be. Before administrators even discussed the upcoming budget and the revised Title I distribution with principals, they should have had all the exact figures in hand and those figures should have been fully vetted for accuracy. There should have been a sit down with a core group of senior principals where the plan was shared and those senior principals provided with an opportunity to stress test the plan. Then, accurate figures, with an accompanying narrative supporting the figures, could have been presented in a timely manner. If people took exception to the changes, the discussion could be based on verifiable numbers, instead of the plethora of changes that have left nobody sure of what figures were accurate. To this day, I have no faith in the numbers being tossed around.

Secondly, you have to provide information that is accurate and easily verifiable. Look at the district’s response to Channel 5’s report on the rise of unauthorized purchase requests. According to the Channel 5 report, “Unauthorized purchase requests (UPRs) went from $304,289 in the year before Dr. Joseph took control — skyrocketing to $2,279,647 in Joseph’s first year on the job. Already, this year, those UPR requests have topped a million dollars.” MNPS’s response goes into detail about what a UPR is and how they are used. And then makes the claim that “In 2018, UPRs are trending to be flat—we expect UPRs to fall as education continues in the district and we ensure all employees adhere to proper expense reporting.”

What?!? How is from $304,289 compared to over a million dollars trending flat? Furthermore, if you just started tracking UPRs in 2015, where was the money accounted for previously? Did it just turn up somewhere in the budget? When you say that 2018 is trending flat, are you talking about the fiscal year, which begins in July, or the calendar year, which began in January? Where does the money for UPRs come from? What’s the whole story here, and if there is nothing in William’s story for me to be concerned about, why are you not explaining it in more detail to me? And by the way, several of those UPRs are for 5-figures and above, so to utilize the examples of a teacher applying late for a conference or a maintenance worker picking up a part is a little bit disingenuous.

A proper narrative requires telling the same story every time you repeat it. Dr. Joseph has pointed to the growth of advanced academics as a success this year, and to some extent, rightfully so. But in touting that success at various media outlets, he’s changed the story with each telling. On the radio, he stated that we’ve doubled the number of kids taking advanced classes throughout the district. At the State of Schools speech, it became “We have doubled the number of students with plans to take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge exams, and we have expanded our advanced programming in middle schools.” On Channel 2 it was, “We doubled the number of kids taking advanced placement at the high school level.” All three claims are very different, and I’m not sure any of them can bear up to being fact checked.

The one that probably comes the closest to being factual is that we’ve nearly doubled the number of kids taking Advanced Placement tests. The reason being that the district paid for those tests this year. So, if last year you had 100 people taking AP classes and 50 weren’t taking the test because they couldn’t afford it, it’s not a big stretch to imagine that if the financial barrier is removed, everybody will take the test. The district deserves accolades for removing that barrier.

However, just like with testing the water for lead, it’s not enough to just take the test. What were the results? What are we doing with the results? We all purportedly hate participation trophies, yet’s here’s Dr. Joseph asking us to give him one. You have to do more than just test.

Dr. Joseph is shouting MAP testing results from the roof tops. But again, we are not telling the whole story. First of all, we’ve chosen to completely disregard a whole testing session. Kids took the MAP test in November and scores were down 2%. Those results are no longer part of the conversation as we focus only on September and February testing results. That 2% drop in November was ruled insignificant. February scores are up 3% and being touted as the “highest they’ve ever been in MNPS,” which is not a true statement. 

As you can see by looking at the district-supplied chart of results from the last 5 applications, scores are basically flat with only 6th and 7th graders showing significant gains. I’m not trying to throw cold water on the work that teachers and kids are doing, but the numbers don’t lie. Why not brag about the math scores, which other than 5th grade, legitimately earn accolades.
On Eagles’s podcast, Joseph touts MAP being given three times a year as a component of its power. Exactly when will we be giving the test three times this year? November’s results are disregarded and May’s testing window has been labeled optional, so when will the third administration be delivered? He can’t just keep saying whatever comes to mind.
Furthermore, while touting these results, Dr. Joseph seldom outlines how we got them. At the school board meeting, he mentioned scripted curriculum, expectations, and the scope and sequence. Talk to any teacher about this year’s scripted curriculum and scope and sequence and then come tell me how those items produced these results.
I’ll tell you what actually produced those results and district leadership won’t like it. Teachers. Teachers who ignored the district’s initiatives and just did what they knew to be best for kids. Which is very commendable, but how do we replicate the results? Again, we have the refrain of it’s the testing that matters, not what you do with the results.
I could go on and point out endless examples. The short answer is, yes, many of Dr. Joseph’s problems stem from a communication root. But I’m loathe to just write it off as that because when I look at the Channel 5 reports, there is no denying that missteps have not hurt the bottom line for the friends and families of the Chiefs from Prince George’s County. I’m going to leave this aspect alone for today other than to say, faulty communication supplies an all too convenient excuse for problems that are plaguing the current MNPS administration, but it doesn’t cover up that people from PGCPS have benefited disproportionately from district policy compared to those who were already employed upon Dr. Joseph’s arrival. Let’s just say I’ll be revisiting this topic later in the week.
However, I can’t close out this portion of the conversation without sharing the thoughts of Thespian Bruce Taylor. Taylor is a compatriot from Prince George’s County who, despite having no formal training in education, has managed to secure a $100k contract to work with 2 schools on ACT improvement. Two middle schools, I might add. Taylor admits that he has no formal training in education, but provides this argument in defending his qualifications: “If my approach doesn’t succeed, then all the ‘credentials’ in the world wouldn’t work.” Conversely, if it does work, and there is some evidence that it does, then “credentials” wouldn’t matter either.
Based on that logic, I don’t know why teachers bother getting their degrees. Why does the state even require certification? I encourage everybody to read Mr. Taylor’s insights and then I suggest y’all quit and set up a consultancy agency. $100k is a damn sight better than a teacher’s salary.
QUICK HITS 
The community gets a chance to weigh in on the budget again this week. Tonight is a budget hearing at 5 pm, with another tomorrow after the board meeting at 6 pm, and then one last opportunity Thursday at 5 pm. I encourage everyone to show up and speak out. Positive and negative.
Tomorrow is a regularly scheduled board meeting at 5 pm. One thing that stands out on the agenda is that there will be a vote on the recently negotiated Memorandum of Understanding between the district and teachers. While most of the fiscal components have been deferred to the compensation committee, there are still some things to celebrate. The length of the working day has been defined, as well as the procedure for appealing reprimands. It may not be a giant step for mankind, but it is a step forward. Thanks to all of those who worked so hard in bringing this to fruition.
There is good news coming out today from the Tennessee Department of Education. They are doing away with 2 state tests at the high school level. Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen’s 30-member assessment task force made separate votes on the recommendations, both with the same conclusion. In the 2018-2019 school year, the Chemistry test and English III test will no longer be administered. “Keeping students at the center, teachers want fewer tests in that year. That’s how we support them,” said Cicely Woodard, a Nashville public schools teacher and member of the committee. Call this one a step in the right direction.
Get ready. Come April 10, NAEP will be releasing its latest results. Will Tennessee continue to be the fastest rising state in the union?
POLL RESULTS
Last week’s poll numbers were down a little bit. Not sure if it was that you didn’t like the questions, or you didn’t like the column, or you were just checked out on spring break. Either way, I promise to do better. Still, some meaningful information can be drawn from your replies. So let’s look at them.

Question 1 asked whether you thought Tennessee teachers would strike. And the answer is… according to 32% of you… doubtful. Though the number 2 answer, at 24%, was “a real possibility.” Truth is, at this point, I don’t think anyone knows, but we’ll be watching. Here are the write-in answers:

Don’t think they can. Check the fine print at MNEA. 1
A death knell for trust 1
Only if they can get more printed packets to give students instead of actually teaching 1
Don’t let Joseph and his minions get 5 years in TCRS!
Question 2 asked for your opinion on MNPS possibly revising a structured intercession. 44% of you expressed a marginal interest, saying the devil would be in the details. 23% of you said you would be for it, but that it should be a full day and fully funded. I fall into the latter camp. I’m all in for anything that gives more kids more experiences. Here are the write-in answers:
No. 2
No 2
Prioritize family time 1
Wasted money. 1
It was disastrous when we had it. Unfunded and low student turnout. 1
Will they be able to stomach funding transportation and food? If not, then NO. 1
nope…too little interest and participation 1
I think it will be hard to get teachers to work it.

Last question asked who you would be supporting in the upcoming mayoral election. Acting Mayor David Briley received 51% of the vote. The next closest challenger was former radio talk show host Ralph Bristol with 9% of vote. Come on, Briley. Here are the write-in answers:

Undecided 1
IDK 1
I don’t know enough about the candidates yet. 1
Need to research more 1
Not enough information yet 1
Not a clue yet 1
whichever will promise to fund schools adequately 1
I wish I could vote for Love AND Gilmore 1
Don’t know enough about any of them. 1
TC Weber 1
undecided 1
What is the position of these candidates on education? 1
bozo the clown

That’s another one in the bag. Seeing as tonight was particularly eventful for the school board, I suspect I’ll be back tomorrow. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

AN HONEST LOVE

8

Climb on board the slightly wayback machine with me. Today I’d like to take you back to the year 2008. That’s the year that former school board candidate Jane Grimes and I were appointed to the board that oversaw the Metropolitan Arts and Education Channels(MEAC). MEAC was made up of Channels 9 and 10, dedicated to arts and education programming, respectively. At that time, Channel 19, the public access channel, was its own entity, with its own set of problems. We arrived on the MEAC board shortly after former director Michael Catalano had resigned. What we found was an organization in disrepair, whose very existence was in jeopardy.

I remember those first meetings vividly. A board chair who didn’t use email. Another board member falling asleep during discussions on the hiring of a new director. Financial support was at a low point. Jane and I just looked at each other, and after a couple WTF’s, we dug in and got to work.

Metro Government had decided that it wanted to restructure the whole organization and place all 3 channels under one umbrella: the Nashville Education, Community, and Arts Channels (NECAT). This was a noble endeavor, though one without a blueprint.

Finances were in such disarray that it was impossible to even get a financial audit due to so many missing records. Producers at Channel 19 wanted a better organization, but were rightfully very protective of their turf. Equipment was in need of an update, and we had an oversight board that only wanted to meet when it had good news to report. It was challenging to say the least.

Jane became chair, due to her more diplomatic nature, and I assumed the role of vice-chair. Joel Sullivan joined us on the board several months later and undertook the task of cleaning up the finances. And then the bare knuckle fights began. We began to have those painful, honest conversations that nobody wanted to have because they felt that having those conversations publicly would threaten our tenuous financial status and potentially threaten the organization’s existence.

One of our first moves was to bring Kim Hayes on board as Executive Director. We brought her on more as a partner than a savior. Board members were extremely involved – I’d start naming them, but I know I’d forget somebody – and available. Expectations were placed as much on the board as they were on our director. The board was seen as both a resource and a governing body.

Man, it was a lot of work and the future was extremely uncertain. The organization was so fractured and the history was so bad, yet people were so passionate about the organization. We had to take that passion and build upon it. We didn’t always see eye to eye on things, and things sometimes got heated, but I believe we always respected each other. It didn’t hurt that we had Keith Myles on the board to bring a certain zen to the proceedings.

We began to make progress. Jane rolled off the board and I became chair, a position I would hold for three years. Kim recruited John Ferguson to head up the tech side of things. We began holding monthly meetings with all members of the organization, where we presented things to them, but more importantly they presented their concerns to us. I remember getting blasted at a few of those meetings early on. Channel 19 producers didn’t trust us or believe we had their best interests at heart. We won them over by listening, doing what we said we were going to do, and when we fell short, being accountable.

I remember one meeting where producers wanted a green screen to improve the quality of their productions. I agreed to procuring the green screen. Unfortunately, I hadn’t followed through with that promise by the time the next meeting arrived. The reaction was as expected: members weren’t happy. But I stood in front of them and acknowledged my failure to deliver. By the next meeting, the green screen was provided and slowly but surely, trust grew.

Working as a partner with Kim allowed us to make real progress. Over her tenure, Kim Hayes brought stability to an organization that had none. Guiding principles and practices got established and she put us in a position to move forward. After 3 years at the helm, Kim was exhausted and realized that we needed a new director in order to make the next step. Thanks to her tireless work and dedication, we were ready to take that step.

I stayed neutral on the search until we had a finalist. The board was deadlocked over 2 candidates. The tie-breaking vote would come down to me. After talking via phone to both candidates for over an hour each, the decision was made to offer Trish Crist the position, which she graciously accepted. And the organization has been better for it ever since.

When we brought Trish on board, a decision was made to have the board be less involved in day-to-day operations. But we didn’t do that instantaneously. The board continued to offer input, and as board chair, I continued to ask questions. As time went on, I found the need to question less and less. Through working together, the board and director’s vision had become aligned.

Today, NECAT is doing extremely well and continually growing. New producers are joining the organization, along with new business partners. The last seven audits have all come up unqualified. That’s a long way from sitting across the desk from a frustrated auditor who’s saying they have no idea how to complete this audit.

I am extremely proud of this legacy, but not in the manner of hey, look what I did. But rather, look what happens when a group of dedicated and passionate people unite around a common goal and are brave enough not to shy away from the ugly side of things. To me, that bravery was the first step and the foundation upon which success has been built.

Now you may be wondering why I’m telling you this long-winded story about an organization that many of you probably didn’t know existed. I’m telling the story because I’m starting to hear similar rumblings around the subject of MNPS. People are wringing their hands over the negative stories and starting to say we shouldn’t talk about the negative. Bringing up the bad is going to hurt in procuring the budget. By criticizing Dr. Joseph and his leadership, we are just making charter schools more attractive. We need to just focus on the good.

I understand that and appreciate it. But it’s been my experience that people already know the bad whether you talk about it or not. Not discussing it doesn’t make it go away. I’ve repeatedly said this, and will continue to say it, we need to love our public schools like we love our families. We need to continually tell the truth. Telling the truth is the only way to earn trust, and without trust, the system collapses. Having honest conversations is often uncomfortable but it is essential.

Being willing to face the things that are not working is only part of having those hard conversations; there also needs to be a willingness to dissect the things that are working and identify the individual elements so that success can be replicated. For example, if we actually are doubling the number of kids in advanced academics, how are we doing it? Are we using an expensive screener that may be cost prohibitive in the near future, or are we doing so in a deliberate and scalable manner? Same with the literacy scores. We can’t just celebrate one instance of scores rising like it’s a trend, especially when we can’t draw a direct line between strategy and effect. When we can show a direct and clear link between cause and effect, replication occurs and greater success follows.

I love our public schools. I will fight for them like I will fight for a loved one. I will acknowledge the shortcomings in order to consistently improve the outcomes, and I will sing the virtues aloud to all who will listen. Our schools and our kids are too important for us to employ anything less than rigorous honesty.

Tackling those hard conversations is the only way to convince taxpayers that our schools are worthy of their investment. Nobody ever gave anybody more money because they just demanded it. We have to prove that we are willing to be good stewards of our resources. The only way to do that is by building trust. You earn trust by acknowledging and correcting, not by soft-peddling and failing to address. It’s really a simple formula, though not an easy one to adhere to.

As one final thought, MNPS leadership is quick to point to the axiom that change is hard. But what leaders often fail to recognize is that it’s not only the organization and its components that is changing, but also the leaders themselves. They are now leading a new organization. One with its own personalities and traditions. It’s imperative that new leadership recognize that they are no longer the head of their previous organization and that in their role as new leader, they can not just apply the same practices they did in the past. The leader has to change as well, and yes, change can be hard.

QUICK HITS

Yesterday it was dueling visions on local television stations. Over on channel 2 WKRN, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph was selling his proposed budget and citing successes from the past year to support that budget. Meanwhile, over at Channel 5 WTVF, investigative reporter Phil Williams was giving the first of two reports on how some of that budget money is getting spent. Interestingly enough, the normally media-shy Joseph was spotted over at Fox 17 and Nashville Public Radio as well. Hmmmm… perhaps we’ll hear more about the thespian from Maryland we paid $100k to improve ACT scores at middle schools despite having no formal training in education. Sort of plays like a character out of the pages of a Jonathan Franzen novel.

Many folks are paying close attention to the teacher strikes in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, and naturally wondering if they could spread to Tennessee. Both the Tennessean’s Jason Gonzales and TN Ed Report’s Andy Spears decided to tackle that very subject. Personally, I believe the seeds are in the ground, and if we aren’t cautious, they will germinate.

Good news this week out of the capital. Somebody put the Tennessee whiskey down and realized that arming teachers was a terrible idea. The proposed bill failed in committee with Rep. Eddie Smith (R-Knoxville) saying he thought the bill to arm teachers had been drawn up on a napkin, and Rep. Roger Kane (R-Knoxville) remarking that he believed the proposal could open the schools up to lawsuits. On the flip side, the Tennessee House resoundingly passed two bills on Wednesday that would restrict and also require more reporting on the use of corporal punishment for students with disabilities. Cause for celebration.

This Saturday, April 7, Meharry Medical College is hosting Impressions Day, a program that introduces high school and undergraduate students to the demands of the dental profession while offering suggestions for gaining acceptance to and succeeding in dental school.

Here’s an interesting story out of Denver. Apparently, district-run schools are given an opportunity to vote on an “innovation plan” that allows for increased autonomy in return for increased accountability. This year, two schools decided to vote against the plan, and as a result, forego the autonomy. I’m not quite sure what it all means, but I find it to be food for thought and possibly a future poll question.

Seattle Public Schools selected a new superintendent of schools yesterday. I’ve been keeping an eye on this search for a number of reasons. Seattle shares some similarities with Nashville and there were rumors that some local folks had an interest in this race. The board selected Denise Juneau for the job. I like the reason for hiring her: “The work that we do is based on trust, and what I heard from so many people is that Ms. Juneau was already coming with a high level of trust,” Board Vice President Rick Burke said before the vote. Glad the Seattle board recognizes the importance of trust.

That’s another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

BUDGET TIDBITS

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A relative calm seems to have descended over greater Nashville with the arrival of spring break. This year’s spring break arrives later in the year than in the past. I think it’s safe to say there were more than a couple of teachers and students white knuckling it through the last couple of weeks. In the future, the district may want to reconsider going so long without a break. Spring break for me also brings reflection on the term equity.

Nashville has been embroiled in a conversation about equity since the arrival of MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph three years ago. Equity is an important conversation, albeit a far deeper one, than Dr. Joseph has been willing to date to lead. His argument has focused primarily on cash and resources. My argument has long been that inequities spring less from dedicated individual school resources than from individual student experiences. Kids in a high need school have vastly different educational experiences than those populated by wealthier students, and that needs to be addressed by more than by just allocating funds.

I also believe that inequity springs more from the unintentional than the intentional. You poll 100 people and I wouldn’t be surprised if you find 90 who voice a commitment to equity. Most people want to give everyone a shot and balance the scales as much as possible. They have no desire to deny any child the resources for a quality education and would be mortified if they found out some of their actions contributed to the growth of inequity. Yet, due to us not really understanding how others live, inequities continue to thrive.

I’d argue that the real shortfall in closing the inequity gaps is not financial. Through grants and charitable organizations, poorer schools often are able to supplement their revenue in order to compete with wealthier schools. It’s in the realm of experience where poorer schools often fall short. And that’s something that is much harder to quantify.

Spring break provides a convenient example of what I’m talking about. Scroll through my social media feed and you’ll see families taking trips all over the world. I’ve seen pictures from France, South America, Florida, New York, and California. For some, it’s simply day trips to Chattanooga or Land Between the Lakes. For our poorer families though, there are no family excursions. Parents have to work, and for kids, it’s a one bedroom apartment, a day care center, or a neighbor’s house. It’s video games, TV, and tablets.

It’s no secret that experience is a phenomenal teacher. For those kids traveling, the lessons taught in school become less abstract and more concrete. Traveling together provides parents with increased interaction time, which leads to growth in vocabulary breadth and width. I’m not trying to make parents who are taking kids on trip feel guilty, God bless them, but rather to shine a light on the fact that the conversation on equity needs to be about more than just money.

A few years ago, MNPS, under then-Director of School Dr. Jesse Register, tried to create a special program for kids during intersession. It wasn’t completely thought out, and it was terribly under-financed, but I think he was on to something. The only caveat is that intersession can’t look like regular everyday school. It’s got to be something special.

We are so big on STEAM, so why couldn’t the week be used to rehearse and present a play? Maybe kids could work on a mural or some other community arts project. Maybe it’s a week at Legislative Plaza learning about how our state government works. Or perhaps a week at a Titan’s camp learning about sports medicine. In a city like Nashville, the opportunities are endless. If we were really serious about equity, we could offer kids some incredibly meaningful experiences that would go a lot further towards easing the equity gap.

I really believe that if we focus our equity conversation on just money and resources, we are neglecting a vital component of the conversation, which is experiences. Experiences are what shape and mold us as adults. Through experience we learn about the greater possibilities life has to offer. If I’m reading 3 levels above grade level, but I’ve never been to a museum or toured a newsroom, or I don’t know a single adult who is a practicing attorney, my scope is going to be severely limited, and the commonplace may seem impossible. If we are really going to address inequity, we need to focus less on test scores and more on experiences. The beautiful thing is that if you create more frequent and varied experiences for kids, test scores can’t help but rise.

MY BUDGET NOTES 

So the full proposed budget has now been released, and I’ve spent a little time with it over the weekend. As a result, I have some questions. Please keep in mind that I am not a budgetary expert, nor even an accountant, and I don’t play one on TV either. The following is just a collection of thoughts that have come to mind as I look at next year’s proposed budget alongside those from the last three years. There may be perfect and reasonable answers to my questions, and I’m willing to extend the benefit of doubt, but I feel the questions are worth raising.

The first thing that stands out to me in next year’s budget is the charter school numbers. Let me be perfectly clear here – I’m not looking to rekindle any past wars, but I do think the numbers presented warrant a deeper conversation. Despite being politically out of favor with many in Nashville, charter enrollment is anything but down. In 2016, there were 9,770 students enrolled in charter schools. That number rose this year to 11,378 and is projected next year to be 12,766. That’s nearly 1,400 more kids enrolled in charter schools between 2017 and 2018. No offense to my charter school brethren, but I’d like to know why.

Looking at some individual schools reveals robust growth numbers:

  • Intrepid Prep has grown from 400 in 2016 to 463 this year and is projected at 610 for next year.
  • Lead Prep SE has grown from 500 in 2016 to 615 this year and is projected at 723 for next year.
  • Valor Collegiate Flagship has grown from 370 in 2016 to 480 this year and is projected at 715 for next year.
  • East End Prep has grown from 615 in 2016 to 737 this year and is projected at 850 for next year.
  • Nashville Classical has grown from 298 in 2016 to 363 this year and is projected at 445 for next year.

As an explanation, MNPS has offered that these numbers are the results of charter schools adding grades and a few making the foray into high school. Since 12 out of the 29 existing schools are in the process of adding grades, I’ll buy that. But it doesn’t explain why many of the schools that aren’t adding grades are adding seats. Sure a few schools are facing dwindling enrollment, but on the whole, charter growth is up. The result is an increased cost to the district of $13,602,400. That’s alarming to me.

It’s not alarming to me because I believe that charter schools are coming in and stealing the district’s kids; it’s alarming to me that we are giving away that many of our kids to charter schools. I will continue to maintain that no parent who feels welcome and included at their kid’s school and feels that their kids are receiving a quality education in a safe environment where they feel valued is going to suddenly elect another option that they know virtually nothing about. For some reason, parents are choosing to send their kids to charter schools, and I think there needs to be a deeper conversation about why.

I also can’t help but wonder if those projections became reality. We’ve heard that more millennials are moving to Nashville, which translates to fewer school-aged children. The district this year turned up 1,500 kids short. Were all those kids slated to attend traditional schools? Did charter schools meet their projections or exceed them? If so, why have they been immune to shifting demographics and not the rest of the district?

Further examination of the budget shows that the budget for Human Resources was $6,100,000 in 2016. This year it is $6,934,800. Next year it’s projected at $7,500,400. That’s $1.4 million growth over 2 years. Would anyone argue that the recruitment and retention process has improved? Has it become easier to get necessary paperwork from Human Resources? Has it become easier to apply for a position? Have we done a better job at filling vacant positions? Have we gotten $1.4 million of improvement?

Here is a math problem for you: If MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Joseph has a contract for $285,000, and he is allowed to cash out 15 vacation days (calculated at 285,000/2080 x 8 x 15= $16,442), why does last year’s and this year’s budget list his salary at $337,200? Because last I checked, 285,000 + 16,442 = 301,442 which is $35,757 LESS than what is listed in the budget. (Incidentally, this is also approximately the annual salary of a level 4 support staff member who has worked for MNPS for 25 years) Some have suggested that this may be explained by investments in his pension, and if so, he can’t be faulted for it.

In addition, this year’s budget lists an increase of $10,800 for Dr. Joseph’s salary, which is a 3.2% raise on the $337,200. Whether it is matching retirement funds or not, whether it’s on him or those who negotiated the contract, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s more money going into the pocket of an already well-compensated man.

On the other hand, teachers and other employees are being asked to accept a 2% raise. AND IT STILL TAKES 10 YEARS for a teacher with an Masters Degree to earn $50,000 annually. Dr. Joseph’s current total compensation package is $598,900. (That means after 10 years, a teacher with a Masters will earn 8.3% of what our Director makes in just his second year. Also, just for comparison, the current salary for Nashville’s mayor is $137,000.)

The district takes a great deal of pride in its student-based budgeting model. This week MNPS’s Communication Department has put out an information sheet purporting to explain the budget. In their press release, MNPS claims, “This year, schools will receive $449,7 million through the student-based budgeting allocation, which is $14.2 million more than last year.” Which is interesting, because if I go to the 2018-2019 schools allocation chart that MNPS released several weeks ago and of which they point to regularly as an example of their extreme transparency, I see that the SBB allocations actually total $439,767,601, which is $15,348,311 higher. Huh? Getting reliable consistent numbers has been a challenge throughout the budgeting process.

Fun fact for you: $11,489,269 of the increased SBB allocation went to middle schools. You know, the ones that in his State of Schools speech Dr. Joseph bragged about spending $8 million on consultants to turn them into STEAM schools? That leaves roughly $4 million divided up between high schools and elementary schools.

Moving along to the Office of Priority Schools. Having the word “priority” in their name should be a signifier that those schools are important, right? In his equity argument, Dr. Joseph cites these schools and our moral responsibility to give them more resources. He’s also stated that your budget is your public statement of what you value. In 2016, the budget for the Office of Priority Schools was $246,600. This year we reduced it to $198,300, and next year we’ll knock another $2k off and drop it to $196,500.

It should be noted that the Executive Director of Priority Schools is Dr. Gloster, and her salary is not included in the budget for priority schools. Her salary falls under the Chief of School’s purview because she is also an executive principal. See, originally there were going to be 12 EDDSI’s, but they underbudgeted last year and so they only hired 11, and Dr. Gloster got the extra title.

Under information technology, we’ve grown from $13,014,200 to $14,324,100 to $16,229,500 with little explanation to what’s changed over the past couple years. Most of the increased expenditures come under contracted services, which has grown from $2,444,300 to $3,085,000 while maintaining the same notes, “Chancery/Copier maintenance/Internet service/Licensing/Parent Callout Notification system.”

Textbooks is a fun category. In 2016, the budget was $3,093,100 and we used $346,624. This year the budget was cut to $2,257,000 and we’ve used $433,127. So naturally next year it is proposed to be raised to $4,713,000. Which could be good news, considering that some schools are using social studies textbooks that are over 12 years old. Books where Obama hasn’t even become president yet. Hmmm…. equity, anyone?

Last year, teachers had to buy copies of the anchor texts that were part of the required units in the literacy scope and sequence. Surely this year those texts will fall under the category of textbooks and $4.7 million will be enough to alleviate that situation. That would be welcome news.

I acknowledge that many of the things I draw attention to are relatively small items. However, most of our household budgets don’t get out of whack because we are buying sports cars and expensive jewelry. They get out of whack because we have too many magazine subscriptions, we go to the movies too much, we eat out at McDonald’s too much. The little things add up and that holds true for big budgets as well.

I urge everyone to show up next week at one of three opportunities the school board has provided for the community to give feedback. We need people to come out and speak out. The dates are as follows:

April 9, 2018 Budget Comm. Public Hearing 5:00 p.m.
April 10, 2018 Board of Education Meeting 5:00 p.m./Budget Comm. Public Hearing 6:00 p.m.
April 12, 2018 Budget Comm. Public Hearing 5:00 p.m.

Please, I urge you to come let your voice be heard.

QUICK HITS 

“Mayor David Briley doesn’t believe scaling back a free lunch program for Nashville public school students is a good idea.” That sentence was written in an article in the Tennessean and may be my favorite sentence Jason Gonzales has ever written. Perhaps there is still hope that the final chapter in this saga may not have been written yet.

And on the flip side, gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee says, “I think arming teachers that are vetted, that are properly trained, that have been through a rigorous process and that have a desire to be a part of the solution of protecting children is a cost-effective way for taxpayers to protect our children.” Ok… scratch him off the list of who to vote for.

Seattle is in the middle of a search for a new director of schools. Some of what has happened and is happening may prove interesting to Nashville residents. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Things are getting interesting for teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky. Could it happen in Tennessee?

I don’t devour everything Peter Greene writes like I used to. Truth is, local policies, strengths, and failings have consumed me, which leaves little time for the national narrative. Still, few hit the nail on the head as often as Greene does. His latest on ad hominemming should be required reading for everybody and one I should tape to the wall above my desk to serve as a constant reminder to not put personalities before policies and of what good writing looks like.

In case you are one of those rare individuals who keeps track of these kind of things, we are now 2 months removed from when MNPS board policy required an evaluation to be completed for the Director of Schools with no completed evaluation in sight. This is how culture gets built and only makes the next guy’s, or gal’s, job harder.

POLLS

Despite it being Easter weekend, plenty of you responded to this week’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at the responses.

Question 1 asked for you to rate the good doctor’s State of Schools speech. To paraphrase the words of Replacements band leader Paul Westerberg, color you unimpressed. The leading answer was “before or after I fact check it?” with 35% of vote. Which would lead me to believe y’all weren’t buying what he was selling. 32% of you gave the speech an F. Only 1 of you gave the speech an A. Here are the write-in answers, but they ain’t getting any prettier:

Ooops, lost the score 1
Didn’t watch. Was doing the heavy lifting in the classroom. 1
N/A 1
It’s just more of his usual self-congratulatory PR. 1
Haven’t read it or heard it.. 1
We can’t give anyone less than a 50 according to District policy. 1
Did he speak or just rely on videos? 1
Wish I’d been able to attend… I was TEACHING 1
He sucks. 1
It didn’t reveal the whole story 1
Didn’t care to watch 1
Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing 1
Stop falling for his rhetoric! He’s a LIAR

Question 2 asked for your opinion of MNPS’s free lunch for all coming to an end. 45% of you answered that you were appalled, and I join you. The number 2 answer was, “I’m not sure how this promotes equity,” with 32%. As a further note, I’d also be interested to see how the proposed solution aligns with the strategic plan. Here are the write-ins:

You mean parents might actually have to feed the kids they chose to have?! 1
Free lunch or pay diversity director 1
I’ve always felt if you can afford it you should pay for it. 1
Maybe effective in elem, lots of kids throw out food in middle, wasteful 1
If you are able to pay. You should! 1
Not sure how Joseph (and friends) gets a raise and kids lose their lunch??? 1
This will cause divions and isn’t fair. 1
More work on schools, finding donations for hungry kids. Thank god for Panera. 1
Mixed feelings 1
Could be prevented if new leadership empowered employees & listened 1
Where us the equity and diversity plan for MNPS 1
Cut Discovery Ed’s STEAM contract. There. Problem fixed. Feed kids. 1
Upset because it seems like it was preventable 1
There’s no such thing as a free lunch

The last question asked for your thoughts on the budget. Apparently it’s not too popular, as 44% of you indicated you thought it was a dumpster fire. 24% of you indicated you had major concerns. Out of 137 respondents, not a single one indicated that it aligned with their personal priorities or that they felt it was worth the wait. Not good. Here are the write-ins:

Audit 1
Mind-blowing that they are cutting social workers. Leadership is out of touch. 1
Padding Dr Joseph and his friends retirement 1
Nashville finds money for other things, fund our schools! 1
Teachers are the lowest priority and the profession will continue to suffer 1
Why does central office take half of district pay? 1
Actions speak louder than words 1
Ok but not sure why positions were cut. Seems pers 1
Ditch the Tahoe. 1
Stop paying so much to central office admin 1
He gets a driver and we get 7 fewer social workers

That’s another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

A DEEPER CONVERSATION

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I was fortunate enough to be walking into this past week’s MNPS State of Schools speech at the same time as Fall-Hamilton ES principal Matthew Portell. If you are unaware of the incredible work that Portell and his staff at Fall-Hamilton ES are doing in regards to social emotional learning, I urge you to watch this video from Edutopia. In a world where we apply the word transformational all too easily, his work truly lives up to the hype.

As we walked towards the auditorium, I used the time to ask a question of Portell. My question was the following: When employing SEL techniques at school, how do you ensure that what you are instilling does not contradict what is being instilled at home? How do you not create a dichotomy that forces kids to choose one over another? While we all may agree that it’s important to be kind to each other, the definition of kind can vary from family to family.

Portell’s answer has resonated with me for the last several days. He acknowledged the challenge, but at Fall-Hamilton they counter the challenge through their extensive conversation efforts with parents. They make a very deliberate effort to engage parents deeply in conversations about what is taking place in the school. By conversations, I don’t mean they tell parents what they should think, and they don’t include them only after they’ve already decided on a course of action; rather, they listen and explain the why. They take into account people’s personal lives and how and where they live. They talk about what they are going to do with parents instead of what they are going to do for families.

Later in the week, I talked to another professional educator and they reiterated the importance of deep community engagement. They also admitted the potential for conflict and added another wrinkle. Unfortunately, for some of our kids, physical conflict is a very real element of their lives. While within the school walls we teach not to hit, once they leave the school, they do have to survive. So the conversation has to take into account that reality. Through deep engagement and by building trust, some of that can change, but not without being willing to do the heavy lifting of engaging in honest community conversations.

In Aurora County Schools, they have committed to using restorative practices to increase equity. In doing so, they recognize the need to have deep conversations that get to the “why” of things. At the latest meeting in early March, a group of parents and educators heard from Adeyemi Stembridge, who talked about research and the importance of how students perceive the responsiveness of adults. In that meeting, he told the group that there would be moments in the discussion where they may feel awkward, but assured the group that meant they were learning. We need more of those kinds of conversations.

Instead, at his State of Schools speech, MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph pointed out that often times, only the loudest parents get their needs met and that it is his intention to make sure those parents who don’t speak up “get heard” as well. Taken with his shot at a sitting school board member – “The role of the school board is not to criticize the district but rather to be a champion of the district” – we start to get a picture of the kind of partner he prefers. If you are really interested in hearing what the quietest voices have to say, why did you schedule public input on next year’s budget for three weekdays at 5pm?

If any of this is truly going to work, we need deeper and richer community engagement. We need more family involvement specialists, not less. We need to fully commit to engaging families where they live. Community Achieves and Communities in Schools have both taken steps in the right direction and serve as sources of optimism. Still, the real heavy lifting has to come from the top, and to date, that commitment just hasn’t been there.

FREE LUNCH REVERSAL

I spent last night watching the video of this week’s board meeting. Part of that meeting was Ken Stark’s presentation to the board on the ending of the district’s free lunch program. Stark is the Executive Officer of Operations who oversees numerous departments, including transportation, student assignment, and school security. I know of no other way to describe this presentation other than appalling. It was equaled only by the district’s handling of the entire CEP program since Stark joined MNPS two years ago.

Stark’s presentation begins around the 1:02:00 mark of the video to the board meeting. Stark outlines the shortcomings in the way the State of Tennessee measures kids in poverty. He presents graphs that indicate that for the last two years, the district should have been aware of the potential to not qualify for renewal, but he never discusses any countermeasures the district took in anticipation of the loss of the grant. In fact, his response seems to fit the narrative of unresponsiveness and inactivity that I have heard from community activists who spent the last six months trying to design a strategy under which kids could continue to be fed. His only offering is that lower numbers of qualifying students equates to more families doing better economically.

The district’s settled on course of action is to provide free lunch at 74 schools, and well, the others will go back to the old way of doing things. Back to filling out forms to show that a family qualifies. Back to a method that stigmatizes children and identifies them to peers as being poor. Back to a system that undocumented children, and those who have recently qualified for legal status, won’t be able to participate in. Kids at 74 schools will be deemed worthy of being fed while the rest… well, they’ll be left to their own devices. Do you think for one second this policy won’t have an impact on performance indicators?

Right now you are probably thinking, “Yeah, but Dad, it would probably cost tens of millions of dollars to provide free lunch to all kids. We can’t afford that.” The reality is, according to Stark, it would cost $7.9 million. That’s it, $7.9 million. Am I supposed to believe that with all the generosity from faith-based organizations and business communities in Nashville, we couldn’t find $8 million dollars? Did anybody even ask?

Dr. Joseph claims that his proposed 2018-2019 budget makes “children’s dreams move one step closer to becoming reality.” At the State of Schools speech, Joseph bragged about investing $8 million in consultants to convert district middle schools to a STEAM-based curriculum, and he plans to spend more in this year’s budget. STEAM may be a fantastic program, but pray tell me, how does a hungry kid focus on robotics? How does a kid learn to code while his stomach rumbles? We continue to have our priorities backwards; it should be people before programs, not the other way around.

THE CASE OF THE MISSING MAP SCORES

If the presentation on the CEP grant didn’t provide you with enough entertainment, then I urge you to check out the amazing MAP score presentation, which starts around the 39-minute mark. In all fairness, based on the data presented, the results are positive. Though I should note that when results from the November test showed a 2% drop in scores, that was considered insignificant. According to both Joseph and district data guru Paul Changas, a 3% growth is considered “impressive.” I know it’s all about the optics and the narrative.

Excuse me, though, while I point out a few things and raise a few questions. Let’s start off by looking at the results from the last 5 MAP tests side by side. I wish I had a slide to share, but you’ll just have to bear with me. Let’s look first at 4th graders who took the test in January 2016. They scored a 43. Their scores progress as follows: 37, and as we followed them to 5th grade, 39, 34, and most recently in February 2018, 39. That’s an overall drop of 4 percentage points. Look at 3rd graders: 43, 38, 41, 38, and 44. A cumulative growth of 1% point. Those who were in second grade in January 2017 went up 2% points, and 5th grade remains static. 6th grade jumped 5% points and 7th grade 10% points. So overall the news is pretty mixed. Shouldn’t those trends be subject to conversation?

Then there are the results from November’s MAP test. They are suddenly no longer part of the conversation. District growth scores are nationally normed based on the scores from September and the scores from February. No explanation is offered about why the November scores are no longer utilized. Anecdotally, I hear that the district is spinning a tale of not enough instructional weeks between tests due to weather days. That presents a number of problems if it’s true.

First, the district set the schedule. They moved the dates from May to February to counteract perceived test fatigue. If they moved the dates with a window so small that weather cancellations could have a negative impact on the testing schedule, that’s on them.

Secondly, I asked Paul Changas back in January if, since technically both September and November are in the NWEA MAP fall testing window, would there be a problem with nationally norming the test. I was given a long explanation about how weeks of instruction were the primary drivers and that though there may be a higher margin of error, we could still get reliable results. So why are November scores no longer considered relevant? Could it be that they don’t fit the desired narrative and optics?

Furthermore, even though in his presentation to the board Changas downplayed the pending May testing windows, he conveyed to me back in January that all principals had the option to schedule testing in May and that the lower of results between February and May would be thrown out. So riddle me this Batman, if that’s true, how do we arrive at a consistent number of weeks of instruction in order get valid national norming? Since these results from February were so impressive, will principals be discouraged from testing in May in order to preserve the narrative?

My last point on MAP: If we are to be effective stewards of the district’s resources, there should be a clear correlation between the specific practices and the outcomes. Dr. Joseph cites a “new curriculum and a new scope and sequence” as primary drivers for the most recent results – a curriculum and a scope and sequence that were quickly abandoned or modified by district teachers. If you don’t believe me, just ask a teacher. The reality is, these scores were powered by teachers ignoring district mandates and instead modifying them in a manner that would allow them to do what is best for kids. While I certainly applaud teachers for mitigating the potential damage, how do we replicate their practices? Unless of course, God forbid, we actually give them the freedom to teach.

Dr. Joseph called for a round of applause for teachers in response to these scores. I’d like to echo that call, but not for the same reasons. I call for a round of applause because teachers and principals continue to be willing to do what they know is best for kids and get results, despite the barriers thrown in front of them. They continue to grasp that it has to be people over programs. Thank God for them.

One last note on MAP scores – a shout out on the math scores should go out to Jessica Slayton, who took over the math curriculum from David Williams. I hear very few complaints and she continues to garner results.

QUICK HITS

School Board candidate Gini Pupo-Walker has started a new blog. Pupo-Walker is a long-time educator with some very unique experiences. Give it a read.

Seems to be audit season. This week, Metropolitan Government Auditor Mark Swann began preliminary meetings on the pending MNPS financial audit. Meanwhile back in Maryland, Governor Tom Hogan apparently isn’t convinced that last year’s audit on 2015-2016 graduation rates in Prince George’s County uncovered all the answers. He’s devoted an additional $1.5 million to conducting a second audit.

Speaking of finances, remember that supposed travel ban Dr. Joseph imposed on MNPS? Yeah, well apparently it doesn’t apply to everyone. Nashville’s own jet setter and Executive Officer for Equity and Diversity Maritza Gonzales is spending the Easter holiday in San Diego where she is attending the Deeper Learning 2018 conference and posing for Twitter pictures with fellows from cohort 3. Can somebody help me here? I’m having a hard time understanding how the Executive Officer for Equity and Diversity aligns with the strategic framework. Two years – and $300K in salary – in to her employment with the district, Gonzales continues to be a living embodiment of the Where’s Waldo? book series.

Here’s a TMZ moment for you. Word on the street has it that recently released district social workers were informed of their pending unemployment while attending a luncheon honoring their service. Sounds about right.

Here’s another fun fact. Truancy agents for the district aren’t like the ones in Little Rascals. A major portion of their work is helping to identify truly needy families in the district and helping them get the aid they need. It’s kinda an important job.

Newly appointed Nashville Mayor David Briley spoke at the State of Schools speech, and I think he’s wearing the crown quite comfortably. Briley has taken it upon himself to champion the cause of reducing teen gun violence. In his speech, he pointed out that we mourn because Parkland High School in Florida lost 19 students in one day to gun violence, but that we should be equally concerned that within the last few years, Pearl Cohn HS has lost 17 students to gun violence. Both cases should be considered unacceptable.

As we get deeper into the discussion of equity, I think it’s imperative that people read Ansley T. Erickson’s Making the Unequal Metropolis. Taking Nashville as her focus, Erickson uncovers the hidden policy choices that have until now been missing from popular and legal narratives of inequality. In her account, inequality emerges not only from individual racism and white communities’ resistance to desegregation, but as the result of long-standing linkages between schooling, property markets, labor markets, and the pursuit of economic growth. By making visible the full scope of the forces invested in and reinforcing inequality, Erickson reveals the complex history of, and broad culpability for, ongoing struggles in our schools. Buy it, read it, share it, discuss it.

Here’s a fun game to play. Look at the list to the side and see how many people on that list are getting raises in this year’s proposed MNPS budget.

For the sake of brevity, I’m going to just post the poll questions without explanation. By now you should know the drill.

That’s another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.

A NASHVILLE EDITION OF O’HENRY’S “THE CACTUS”

5

This week, Nashville lost another one of those characters who made the city a truly special place to reside. Peter Pressman was known as the “father of Nashville’s running community” for good reason. Anyone who has ever run any organized race in Nashville has been the beneficiary of his boundless energy that was matched only by his welcoming smile. Nobody I know was ever treated like a stranger by Pressman. He was an equal opportunity encourager. Whenever I showed up at a race, hearing his voice over the loudspeaker making pre-race announcements never failed to bring a smile. Rest in peace, Peter, knowing that you were an inspiration to the city and have left it better than you found it.

LESSONS FROM LITERATURE

William Sydney Porter (September 11, 1862 – June 5, 1910), known by his pen name O. Henry, was an American short story writer. He’s one of those authors who doesn’t get talked about much in classrooms these days, but in his day he had an inimitable hand for isolating some element of society and describing it with an incredible economy and grace of language. This weekend, I read a short story of his called “The Cactus,” which I found extremely relevant to Nashville’s education issues.

This very short story centers around a man, Trysdale, who in his apartment after attending a wedding, with his friend, the brother of the bride. His friend is upset with him because he won’t drink with him, but Trysdale is too busy reflecting on the bride and opportunity lost. In this excerpt, Trysdale is coming to terms with his role in the failed romance:

From this last hopeless point of view he still strove, as if it had become a habit of his mind, to reach some conjecture as to why and how he had lost her. Shaken rudely by the uncompromising fact, he had suddenly found himself confronted by a thing he had never before faced –his own innermost, unmitigated, arid unbedecked self. He saw all the garbs of pretence and egoism that he had worn now turn to rags of folly. He shuddered at the thought that to others, before now, the garments of his soul must have appeared sorry and threadbare. Vanity and conceit? These were the joints in his armor. And how free from either she had always been–But why–

As she had slowly moved up the aisle toward the altar he had felt an unworthy, sullen exultation that had served to support him. He had told himself that her paleness was from thoughts of another than the man to whom she was about to give herself. But even that poor consolation had been wrenched from him. For, when he saw that swift, limpid, upward look that she gave the man when he took her hand, he knew himself to be forgotten. Once that same look had been raised to him, and he had gauged its meaning. Indeed, his conceit had crumbled; its last prop was gone. Why had it ended thus? There had been no quarrel between them, nothing–

For the thousandth time he remarshalled in his mind the events of those last few days before the tide had so suddenly turned.

She had always insisted upon placing him upon a pedestal, and he had accepted her homage with royal grandeur. It had been a very sweet incense that she had burned before him; so modest (he told himself); so childlike and worshipful, and (he would once have sworn) so sincere. She had invested him with an almost supernatural number of high attributes and excellencies and talents, and he had absorbed the oblation as a desert drinks the rain that can coax from it no promise of blossom or fruit.

As Trysdale grimly wrenched apart the seam of his last glove, the crowning instance of his fatuous and tardily mourned egoism came vividly back to him. The scene was the night when he had asked her to come up on his pedestal with him and share his greatness. He could not, now, for the pain of it, allow his mind to dwell upon the memory of her convincing beauty that night–the careless wave of her hair, the tenderness and virginal charm of her looks and words. But they had been enough, and they had brought him to speak. During their conversation she had said:

“And Captain Carruthers tells me that you speak the Spanish language like a native. Why have you hidden this accomplishment from me? Is there anything you do not know?”

Now, Carruthers was an idiot. No doubt he (Trysdale) had been guilty (he sometimes did such things) of airing at the club some old, canting Castilian proverb dug from the hotchpotch at the back of dictionaries. Carruthers, who was one of his incontinent admirers, was the very man to have magnified this exhibition of doubtful erudition.

But, alas! the incense of her admiration had been so sweet and flattering. He allowed the imputation to pass without denial. Without protest, he allowed her to twine about his brow this spurious bay of Spanish scholarship. He let it grace his conquering head, and, among its soft convolutions, he did not feel the prick of the thorn that was to pierce him later.

How glad, how shy, how tremulous she was! How she fluttered like a snared bird when he laid his mightiness at her feet! He could have sworn, and he could swear now, that unmistakable consent was in her eyes, but, coyly, she would give him no direct answer. “I will send you my answer to-morrow,” she said; and he, the indulgent, confident victor, smilingly granted the delay. The next day he waited, impatient, in his rooms for the word. At noon her groom came to the door and left the strange cactus in the red earthen jar. There was no note, no message, merely a tag upon the plant bearing a barbarous foreign or botanical name. He waited until night, but her answer did not come. His large pride and hurt vanity kept him from seeking her. Two evenings later they met at a dinner. Their greetings were conventional, but she looked at him, breathless, wondering, eager. He was courteous, adamant, waiting her explanation. With womanly swiftness she took her cue from his manner, and turned to snow and ice. Thus, and wider from this on, they had drifted apart. Where was his fault? Who had been to blame? Humbled now, he sought the answer amid the ruins of his self-conceit. If–

Yes… if… I encourage you to read the entire story and pay particular heed to the ending. O’Henry was known for his twists, and this one won’t let you down. I could draw all kinds of metaphors from this story, but I think the best writing comes when a writer trusts the reader to draw the intended connections. Anybody who has ever read Ayn Rand knows what writing devoid of that trust looks like, a constant beating about the head with the author’s intended points. I trust y’all will be able to draw your own parables, and if not, perhaps my arguments have not been as strong as I think. Either way, the interpretation is in your hands.

MAP TIME

There is a MNPS school board meeting scheduled for this week, and on the agenda is a presentation of scores from the recently completed MAP testing. I looked over them this weekend, and you want to know something? They are not bad. According to a slide in the presentation, districtwide MAP scores are up 3% from September, and the majority of MNPS students in grades 2-8 met or exceeded their February growth expectations for Reading (55.9%) and for Math (59.4%). Furthermore, when I look through the individual school scores, there seems to be consistent growth throughout the district. Most schools increased the number of kids in the 4-5 quintiles and decreased the number in the 1 quintile. That’s good news, and I think cause for some optimism, but of course I have some questions.

If you’ll remember, MAP is a nationally normed test that is officially given three times a year – Fall, Winter, and Spring. MNPS students are nationally normed against kids taking the test during those time frames. MNPS administered the test in August-September, November, and February-March. Technically, the first two events fall into the Fall category and the latter into Winter. MAP has been moving towards a schedule based on the number of weeks between testing, as opposed to the testing periods, but isn’t quite there yet. I raised the question about how that would skew results with the MNPS assessment department after the November results were released and was told it might raise the margin of error slightly, but we’d still get accurate results.

Interestingly enough, except for on an early slide, the presentation quickly moves to comparing Fall and Winter results and apparently leaves out the November results. That makes sense due to those times falling into the designated testing times, but we still need to talk about the November results. Why did those scores drop and why did they bounce back in February?

I would argue that the November scores are reflective of the impact of the scripted curriculum and that when teachers saw their results, they quickly discarded the scripted curriculum and began doing what they know to be best practices. I’m sure the district would argue that the November scores were a result of people not closely adhering to the scripted curriculum and that the February results are the results of them cracking down on fidelity. Only teachers know the true answer to that one.

The number of instructional weeks between tests is also an important factor. I would be interested if scores for Winter are based on weeks between the Fall test and Winter or the November test and Winter. Growth norms change with the number of weeks between testing. More growth tends tends to occur over a span of more weeks. For example, a 5th grade student with 16 weeks of instruction between math MAP test administrations would be expected to show more growth than a similar student with only 8 weeks of instruction between test administrations.

Another factor in improved results is that it began to sink in to school leadership how much emphasis district leadership was placing on the MAP testing. Previously, the tests were given, not in a perfunctory manner, but certainly not with a great deal of fanfare. That changed before the Winter testing. There were letter writing campaigns from the kids in lower grades, letters home to parents about the importance of MAP, and call outs from principals. MAP testing now appears to be viewed on the same level as TNReady, and that should raise a flag with anyone concerned about over-testing.

My biggest question, though, is why, if district leadership is confident in the validity of these numbers, are we just now hearing about them? Part of the beauty of MAP testing is the immediacy in which results are available. The district has probably had these results for about 3 weeks, maybe a month. Why are they not on the center of the brain for everybody looking at the upcoming budget? Why did leadership not create the narrative of the budget reflecting the successes of the past year? Why was equity parsed from excellence and allowed to stand alone as a reason for budget changes? At the very least, if presented properly, these numbers could have eased some concerns. Yet here we are, two days away from the budget release, and only now will performance scores be interjected into the conversation.

Buying cars while sending a message of austerity. Announcing that principals would lose Title I funding in next year’s budget and then not telling them exact figures until after the weekend. Tweeting out a picture of kids standing on crates as your sole explanation of equity. Asking for more money without showing results. Not being honest with board members on the board floor. Inviting people with dubious backgrounds to give input on district policy. Making claims on the effectiveness of water filters without offering supporting documentation. The job is hard enough, but it becomes damn near impossible when you continually hamstring yourself with poor communication and poor decision-making.

I got to think Jana Carlisle could have mitigated some of these issues. So throw the decision of letting her go into the bad decision column as well. If MNPS was an NFL team, they’d be the Cleveland Browns. Ever ready to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory.

Well, kudos on the MAP scores. Math looks especially good, since as a district we’ve placed absolutely zero emphasis on it. And save your STEAM arguments. I would offer that the math scores are a testament to David Williams’ skill when it comes to the math curriculum. Hopefully these scores are a sign of more to come.

QUICK HITS

Speaking of communication, you wouldn’t know it by going to the MNPS webpage, but on Wednesday morning at Overton High School at 10:30am, Dr. Joseph will be delivering the annual State of Schools speech. At that time, he is expected to unveil the full 2018-2019 budget.

Speaking of the budget, MNPS has added three additional Board of Education Public Hearings to this year’s budget process. They will be held on April 9th, 10th, and 12th. The 9th and 12th will be at 5pm, and the 10th at 6pm. Nothing says we care about what you have to say like scheduling meetings at 5pm. Hopefully some of you will be able to leave work early, beat rush hour traffic, and get the kids a late dinner in order to voice your opinion.

Schools in MNPS will be closed for spring break beginning this Friday, March 30. Students will return to school on Monday, April 9.

My old neighbor and music legend Brenda Lee visited John Early Middle School to celebrate the opening of its new exhibit: The History of Music Row. Students researched the start of Music Row and how it has changed and developed over the years for this exhibit.

Over at the TN Education Report, Tennessee State University students Jose Lazo and Kristifer Kremer talk about DACA and what it means to them. I urge you to read their account.

North Carolina loved the idea of the Achievement School District so much that they created their own. Bet you can’t guess how that turned out. Diane Ravitch gets us up to speed.

As we get deeper into the discussion of equity, I think it’s imperative that people read Ansley T. Erickson’s Making the Unequal Metropolis. Taking Nashville as her focus, Erickson uncovers the hidden policy choices that have until now been missing from popular and legal narratives of inequality. In her account, inequality emerges not only from individual racism and white communities’ resistance to desegregation, but as the result of long-standing linkages between schooling, property markets, labor markets, and the pursuit of economic growth. By making visible the full scope of the forces invested in and reinforcing inequality, Erickson reveals the complex history of, and broad culpability for, ongoing struggles in our schools. Buy it, read it, share it, discuss it.

POLLS

Response to our weekly poll questions continues to grow, and for that, I am appreciative. Let’s review the answers.

Question 1 asked for your opinion of new Nashville Mayor David Briley. Most of you, 33%, confessed you were still trying to get a read on him. 47% of you indicated positive feelings towards the new mayor. Time will tell where it all shakes out, but I think he’s off to a quality start.

Here are the write-in answers:

Love him! 1
Just thankful Barry resigned! 1
Hoping he’s not in bed with NPEF & Dr. J

Question 2 asked for your thoughts on Dr. Joseph reportedly planning to ask for an extra $45 million in the upcoming budget. Out of 150 responses, 93, or 62%, of you indicated you’d like to see the audit first. 35 of you want him to sell the Tahoes before asking. 3 people indicated that they would give the $45 million to him. Here’s hoping those 3 are Metro Councilmembers.

Here are the write-in answers:

Not clear about his current spending. Give me a grant proposal. What do I get? 1
I’d say why do you pay yourself and friends so much and schools don’t have paper 1
That $45 mill is really what the state owes us. 1
Fire half of central office and we will talk 1
I’d reserve judgment until seeing the results of the pending audit.
The last question was on the priorities for next year’s budget as outlined by Dr. Joseph. Not surprisingly, out of 152 responses, 69, or 45%, of you said employee compensation. One quick note here, we often focus on teacher raises, but just as important are substitutes, para-pros, classroom assistants, custodians, crossing guards, office personnel, cafeteria workers, and all those who impact our children’s classroom experience. Literacy was number 2 with 23%. STEAM? Despite the millions that we are spending on changing middle schools over to a STEAM focus, one person said it should be a top priority. One. Feels like a solution in search of a problem.
Here are the write-in answers:
Him 1
His priority is his own career, of course. Prepare the golden parachute! 1
Math isn’t a focus….. I mean what the hell 1
Money to himself and “his” 1
Central office 1
Should be literacy, but not with Felder 1
Moving to another “Crazy” city 1
New Tahoes for all MNPS employees 1
When are we going to focus on math? 1
Anything but literacy based in what we got this year. We can make our own units. 1
Padding his resume to go somewhere else 1
Please don’t forget about support staff. The majority earn below poverty level. 1
Getting his friends raises 1
Joyful schools! 1
Increase para pay to $15 hr 1
While they talk a good game about sel , social workers are getting cut 1
Job #1 for him is to ruin Nashville’s public schools 1
His paycheck and his power 1
Theft

There you have it. Another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.