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WHAT’S ON THE AGENDA FOR 2019?

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”
Voltaire

“The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.”
Ronald Reagan

Once again we have arrived at the end of another year. I’m not sure that 2018 will qualify as a bang-up year by anyone’s definition, but on this side of the keyboard, it’s been a challenging one. Still, I gaze towards 2019 with optimism. But I ask, what should be our focus? In my opinion, if we are serious about improving educational outcomes in Nashville, we’ve got to make the following the focal points. Fail on any of them and we are looking at a continued backward march.

TEACHERS ARE NUMBER 1

Last week saw another national article about teacher attrition making the rounds on social media. These articles have popped up about once a month for the last couple of years and every time they do, I find myself more and more irritated by them. But not for the reason you might think.

Every time these articles appear, everybody rends their garments, clutches their pearls and then they do nothing. These articles provide cover for those that should be addressing the issue locally, to offer false compassion and then act is they are not part of the problem. After all, “What do you expect us to do? It’s a national problem. Have you seen the cover of Time magazine?”

Yes, teacher attrition is a national problem, one that is growing, but that does not absolve local districts of responsibility for finding solutions. Nashville finds itself in an especially precarious position. Growth over the past decade has resulted in an inflated cost of living, a cost of living that is contributing to driving teachers from the district. Discipline policy’s, more on that later, have made the classroom less safe and the introduction of the scripted curriculum has made the job even less rewarding. We continually increase expectations while lowering supports. Whether it’s true or not, the prevailing feeling among MNPS teachers is that “leadership could give two shits” about their opinion. Not an environment conducive to attracting and retaining professional educators.

To further muddy up things, MNEA, which should be protecting teachers, is purportedly telling school board members that teacher morale is not nearly as bad as reported elsewhere. Giving the union the benefit of the doubt, I can only suppose that union leadership is betting support of the director will offer a perception of stability, and without that perception, raises will be even harder to come by. Logically that makes sense but comes with no guarantees.

Admittedly since the recent school board election, my perception of the both MNEA and SEIU is diminished. Formerly a staunch supporter, running for election exposed to me to an ugly side of the union. One where it’s leadership is too often focused on their own agenda as opposed to its members. The current leadership team has been in power for almost 20 years. That fact, coupled with the lack of improvement in teacher compensation and working conditions over the last 2 decades, gives a pretty clear indication of where their priorities lie.

The priority of teacher recruitment and retention cannot be overstated. Too many of the district’s children are being educated via computer or by long-term substitutes. Teachers dissatisfaction has risen to a point where they are no longer waiting to leave employment during winter and summer break, but rather departing throughout the year. The district has lost over 150 professional educators since the start of school. Some defenders may use statistics to diffuse the impact of that number, but I find it alarming. Do the math – an average of 20 students per teacher – and you’ll realize this exodus has at minimum impacted 3000 kids. That is not minor.

The little effort made by MNPS in retention and recruitment focuses primarily on new teachers. District leadership will point to diminishing attrition numbers for first and second-year teachers as a sign of improvement. Wonderful, but that’s not the crux of our issues. MNPS’s very own data shows that when it comes to teachers with 5 plus years of experience, those numbers leaving are growing. I’ve yet to see numbers for early retirement, but if anecdotal data bears out, those are high as well.

In a recent speech, Dr. Joseph defended the use of scripted curriculum due to lack of capacity and teachers voicing being overwhelmed by class prep work as being responsive to teacher needs. Addressing the latter first, I would ask how many of those teachers who voiced that need were first-year teachers? Then addressing the former, how do you develop capacity if you rely increasingly on a packaged curriculum. That reliance only serves to create a permanent need. District leaders argue that they recognize that issue and have plans in place to mediate the impact, but I have yet to see evidence of such a strategy.

The teacher compensation committee is scheduled to report in January and hopefully, some of these issues will be addressed. The solutions do not lie in creating alternative licensing paths, increasing the Teach for America contract, or utilizing more long-term subs. The solutions lie in compensating and treating teachers like the professionals they are.

One last side note, usually in close proximity to the articles bemoaning teacher attrition are ones that openly criticize their ability to do their job. Articles that attack teacher prep programs, curriculum, or accuse teachers of ignoring scientific research in their teaching.

It all reminds me of one New Years Eve where this one man was pushing another, seeing how far he could go before the other exploded. “No, No No…I don’t think you are dumb at all. It’s not your fault that you didn’t get a good education. I think you are incredible.”

Our conversations with teachers, unfortunately, are not dissimilar. We have to stop and devote our full attention to improving the culture and compensation for teachers. Teacher issues are student issues.

DISCIPLINE

Has anybody noticed that our kids are killing each other at ever-increasing rates over the last two years? I’m not being flippant, it just seems as if nobody is really noticing. In my eyes, we hit crisis level a number of years ago and things have only grown worse since then. Just over the holiday season, there was a loaded gun found in the backpack of a Stratford and an 11-year-old JT Moore student was shot in the face. These are not isolated issues and are occurring all too frequently.

We as a community have got to get a handle on this situation and quick. Perhaps it’s time to start asking the hard questions of Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and MNPS’s Executive Officer Tony Majors. Both have received more accolades than they’ve produced results. MNPS has been at the restorative practices game for all most 5 years, and while there has been great work done, will anyone, besides Dr. Majors and his staff, argue that our schools are safer today then they were 5 years ago. Has the decline in suspensions correlated with a decline in actual incidents or even the number of guns in schools?

I know that Major’s will argue the societal component to the equation, and how he can’t control that, but that’s where his counterpart Calloway comes in. Is juvenile crime in decline? Has the increased use of restorative practices led to a decline in kids getting shot? What are we going to do, besides hold high-level conversations among adults, to keep our kids safe? I’d argue that keeping our kids’ safe ranks among the top three priorities we have as a society and based on the number of shootings we’ve seen over the last year, we are failing by any measure.

I suspect that over the next couple of years a real backlash against restorative practices is going to take place. Which is a shame because I believe there is a lot of value in those practices. But this should be another lesson in the importance of properly implementing policy. We have got to get this right, in our schools and in our city. We can’t educate kids properly who are perpetually in danger of being shot. We have to get a handle on it and Majors and Calloway needs to step to the plate or let someone else with less personal accolades get more results.

Dr. Joseph recently bragged that Cigna trained 88 MNPS leaders to better support project management. Going on to say that he participated in the all-day training, and participants learned a process to develop and execute on project plans. Cigna plans facilitate media training with key leaders next week. Great, but why do we central office folks that require training in project management? Isn’t that the crux of the job? Why do we have people in charge of creating and implementing policy who are not competent at creating and implementing policy?

Which brings me to the next focus.

NEW DISTRICT LEADERSHIP

Over the last 2 years, I’ve been critical but I’ve hedged a bit on whether it’s time for team Joseph to move on or not. 2019 marks the time to stop hedging. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools needs new leadership. Period. We’ve got two and a half years of data that shows that this administration is incapable of making real change. In those two years, they have continually shown the inability to learn from past mistakes and have demonstrated an inability to stay out of the news for even a week at a time, let alone improve educational outcomes. The number of priority schools has grown and test results are flat at best.

Some of Dr. Joseph’s defenders will point to Nashville inherent racism, and say that he never stood a chance. I’m not going to deny that racism played a role in Dr. Joseph’s failure to move the needle, but will argue that upon arrival he had all the city’s power base united behind him. His actions, not racism, eroded that support. What prevented him from stepping to the microphone and addressing the district’s issues instead of leading reporters on an embarrassing exploration of the city library’s exits? What prevented him from being more intentional in the words he chose when holding staff meetings? It’s true that he inherited employees that engaged in bad behavior, though Carrasco came with him, but what prevented him from dealing with these issues in a transparent and professional manner? what prevented him from adhering to TNDOE state policy?

Under Joseph’s tutelage, district officials have been more concerned about how problems were discovered then the actual issues themselves – yes guys, I know about Antioch High School’s demonstration school status and the RAMP designation timeline. Joseph touts transparency on a regular basis, well if you are truly transparent there should be absolutely zero conversation on how the problem was revealed. The focus should be on solutions. This administration has lost that focus and 2019 needs to be the year that it is restored.

Some are concerned that conducting a search for a new director of schools at the same time a mayoral election is going on could be problematic. I give you that, but is there ever really a good time? Are we going to wait until we lose more professional educators? Are we going to wait until more families chose to look for other venues to educate their children? Sometimes you just have to rip the band-aid off and let the healing begin.

Bill Belichick was once the coach of the Cleveland Browns. It didn’t go so well for him and he was let go. He then went on to become a hall of fame coach with the Patriots. Was Belichick a bad coach with the Browns? No. Was the organization wrong for letting him go? No. He was the wrong fit for the job. For whatever reason, he wasn’t meant to be the head coach for the Cleveland Browns. The same holds true for Dr. Joseph. He’s the wrong fit to lead MNPS, and it’s time we admit that and look for the right fit. It may be painful to admit, but sometimes growth only comes through pain.

QUICK HITS

Teacher and blogger Mary Holden has a new one out and it should bring a smile to your face. It’s always beneficial to take a moment and reflect on what we are grateful for. I’m grateful that the Holden’s are our family friends.

Fall-Hamilton has collaborated with several community partners on several grants to support students, families, and teachers! Recently the school received news that it has been awarded three different grants! The school collaborated with Fifty Forward, Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and the Nashville food project to receive the SPARK grant which will be used to support English classes, child care, and home libraries. The second grant announcement came from the collaboration with the Faith and Culture Center. This grant is going to provide supplies and volunteers for 300 food packs for underserved school families. It will also include four staff lunches to promote community within the school. The last grant is funded from the Tennessee Department of Education. The school received $36,000 from Read to be Ready to provide a summer experience for students struggling in literacy. Kudo’s to all.

A couple of things to put on your calendar for January:

16 – Egyptian Culture Exchange – 12:00-1:30 – Presenters from the MNPS Translation and Interpretation Department and Nashville International Center for Empowerment– Location: Wellness Center Large Conf. Room A
Please join us for an Equity and Diversity Brown Bag Lunch & Learn session that would include MNPS Egyptian staff, students, parents, and community stakeholders. This course, reviews common cultural norms, values, beliefs, and practices of Egyptian families and outlines best practices for educators to effectively engage with Egyptian students and families to promote student success. Please come and engage in dialogue with other central office and MNPS staff! **Snowed out date: January 24, same time and location***RSVP:http://bit.ly/EgyptianCultureExchange011619
23 – Supporting Students with Disabilities – 12:00-1:30 – MNPS Exceptional Education Team – Location: Wellness Center Large Conf. Room A. This course offers practical tips about how to support students with disabilities and to engage families as allies.
RSVP: http://bit.ly/SupportingStudentswithDisabilities012319

Over TNEd Report Andy has a piece from a teacher on the TNDOE. As always I encourage you to check it out. While you are there make sure you bookmark TNEd Report. You’ll need it during the upcoming legislative session.

Over at Volume and Light, Veshia Hawkin’s does a little reflecting on 2018.

POLL QUESTIONS

Let’s take a look at the results from last week’s poll questions.

The first question asked, “What January news story are you most anticipating?” According to the results, 30%, most of you are looking forward to the coming evaluation of Dr. Joseph by the school board. That evaluation is slated to be a formative assessment, so I’m not sure how strong it will be. But let’s see. Here are the write-in votes:

A story that reveals all the truths and ends SJ’s 1
All of the above 1
Josephs resignation. Fingers crossed. 1
watching for the Board to start holding Dr Joseph accountable 1
1. Teacher Compensation 2. Joseph’s Evaluation 1
Shawn Joseph’s ouster! Or resignation! Don’t care which, just go!

Question 2 asked about holding a conversation on high school start times. MNPS schools have among the earliest start times in the country and there has been a considerable conversation over the last couple decades about changing it. 24% of you indicated that due to a lack of district resources, you’d rather focus elsewhere. 16% of you wanted to hold the conversation but weren’t optimistic about it’s outcome. Here are the write-ins:

Meh 1
Another one bites the dust 1
Will cost way too much money. We need to focus on teacher compensation 1
Would seriously hurt teens that need to work to help families. 1
important, but shd not be used to shift the focus from Dr Joseph’s failures 1
Why waste teacher’s time? Our voice is not heard!

The last question asked for your feedback on who the next mayor should be. Per usual, since he’s a friend of public education, Bill Freeman took the most votes. It’s a setiment that I share. Here are the write-ins:

ohn Ray Clemmons 1
Any Frogge 1
Anyone who will have a little bit of backbone for regular people. 1
There has to be someone better than who’s listed here. 1
Not sure yet. 1
Sharon Gentry-anything to get rid of her 1
Darin Jernigan 1
Shawn joseph 1
Anyone w/the guts to fund PUBLIC education, reduce free $ to corps., & fix roads 1
Frank 1
Bart Durham 1
Bozo

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great New Year!

I’ll re-print the number 1 and number 2 most read pieces on the second and third.

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Posted in Uncategorized

TOP POSTS OF 2018: #2

The number 2 most popular post of the year was written back in the beginning of December.

Starting in mid-October a sense of resignation had set in with regard to Nashville public education. People had tired of the constant drumbeat of mis-steps by those in charge of the system. In order to preserve their own sanity, many had started to tune out.

Director of Schools Dr. Joseph had survived virtually unscathed a number of major fails – sexual harassment, HR practices, increase in priority schools, failure to report discipline issues to the state,- in which any one of the issues should have been concerning to the MNPS board, but collectively painted the administration as incompetent. The majority of the school board however didn’t share the publics opinion and failed to hold Joseph accountable on any level. In defense, some board members maintained that they had stern conversations with Joseph behind closed doors. Conversations that seemed to produce no changes.

Stakeholders were also extremely wary of being labeled racists if they raised any criticisms against Joseph. Last year’s budget season served as an example of what to expect if you dared publicly criticize him. Joseph’s fraternity brothers showed up at a public budget hearing and accused board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering of “conducting a public lynching” when them executing the duties of their elected positions became uncomfortable for Joseph.

From there the dye was cast, it was in that moment Joseph lost one of his staunchest allies in Amy Frogge. Frogge was at the forefront of welcoming Joseph to Nashville. Upon his arrival, he spent time on several occasions with Frogge and her family in their home. As a a board member Frogge fought fiercely to give him the room he needed to improve Nashville schools. When asked if he condoned the language used by fraternity brothers at the public hearing, Joseph shrugged and weakly offered that he couldn’t control what people said. From there the dye was cast, and Joseph indicated a willingness to play upon city being more concerned about being called racist, then they were about racism itself.

That back drop, coupled with the boards failure to hold Joseph and team accountable, led to people starting to disengage and bury their heads in an effort to just maintain. The general feeling was, nobody is going to do anything therefore the only option is to try to get through it. That still left one other option open, leaving. And many teachers took that option.

From the first day of school until mid-December the district lost 150 teachers. At the end of November Joseph made comments at a principal meeting that many deemed disrespectful to teacher. Those comments, along with the growing discipline issues, served to re-engage people. That re-engagement contributed to this being the number 2 most read piece from 2018.

Ever since their arrival from Prince George County Schools, MNPS Director Shawn Joesph and his team have attempted to paint themselves as social justice warriors. They have tried to create a narrative of Nashville as a place where inequities flourish and that they have been sent by a higher power to slay that dragon. Chief Instructional Officer Monique Felder has often told people that she was sent here “to right the sins of the past.”

At today’s principal’s meeting, Dr. Joseph continued that narrative as he addressed concerns about his new discipline policy by referring to teachers as gladiators who just want blood. That blood being kid’s suspended for no reason. This is nothing new, Joseph continually paints teachers as just willy-nilly heading through the halls plucking up black and brown kids and demanding that they are suspended. Per his own words, he once suspended a bunch of kids because that’s what teachers wanted, he has since learned his purpose.

He touts Cigna’s plan to train 90 people to provide mental health supports to stressed out teachers, and then remarks, “If you don’t feed teachers they eat children and some folks have been snacking.” At no point does he acknowledge the role his policies and leadership failings play into teacher stress. Instead, he continually portrays teachers as fearful, racist, and not living up to their potential. It is a narrative that, to say the least, is extremely insulting to the teachers that continually try to make lemonade out of his lemons.

I can only surmise that this reasoning his why his recent discipline policy is focused on stopping something – suspensions, expulsions, and arrests – as opposed to providing something – counselors, trauma-related services. It also lacks any focus on ensuring that 92% of kids who are not suspended, get the benefit of the full and undivided attention of a quality teacher. During school board discussions on the proposed policy, board member Amy Frogge suggested that every school have a dedicated trauma-counselor that could help navigate the outside forces that were influencing student behavior. The idea was rejected, as other board members argued that implicit bias played a much larger role in suspension rates and that is where the focus should lie.

I don’t argue that implicit bias exists. It’s well documented and certainly impacts student outcomes. There are teachers who are quick to employ harsh measures on black and brown students due to their biases. But I would also argue that if there is a deficiency in classroom management with these teachers, then there are probably deficiencies in other areas. I would also argue that this is a minority number of teachers and not representative of the profession. Dedicated supports should be applied as needed and to those who most need it. Whether it’s through additional trainings, mentoring, or restorative practices.

I would also caution against the downplaying of the role poverty plays in behavior issues. Unfortunately, our high poverty schools are populated primarily by children of color. Due to poverty, these are children that are exposed to high levels of trauma – drug abuse, sexual abuse, parental incarceration, physical abuse – at a much higher frequency. Without trained adults equipped to help them process that exposure, their behavior is often impacted in a negative manner.

Converse at a school made up of students from higher socio-economic backgrounds, children have less exposure to trauma. Many of those schools are made up of white students, which is one of the reasons that addressing income inequality on a state and national level is so important. Based on this diminished level of exposure to trauma, there are fewer instances where suspensions become a necessity. This is where poverty impacts the data and if you are not careful, you will get a perception of a greater discrepancy in suspension rates based on race.

There has been very little conversation about how the new discipline policy potentially impacts the teaching profession going forward. Instead, we like to try to consider each individual issue as its own brick, independent of all other bricks. Much like his decision on Reading Recovery, Joseph removes a brick without ever identifying the brick he’s going to put in its place.

The result is that in these high poverty schools there is a perception that there is little a teacher can do to address behavior issues. This perception impacts who is going to teach in these high poverty schools. I’d argue that it will be either young inexperienced teachers, or if you introduce merit pay, older teachers just trying to make some extra cash for a couple of years. As a result, we are not only failing to supply needed supports to our neediest students but as an unintended consequence, we are depriving them of the very teachers who could make a difference in their lives.

What of the teachers who do choose to teach in these high need schools? We judge them based on academic outcomes. I’ll ask you this question, both you and I are hired to sell insurance, you are allowed to focus on selling insurance all day while I am tasked with cleaning the office 2 hours every day, who is going to sell more insurance?

This past week I had a conversation with a fellow parent about how well her child is doing in 8th-grade math this year. This success can be directly traced back to a teacher that her child had 4 years ago that nobody liked; not the parent and not the child. What they have since discovered is that the manner in which the teacher taught the principles of math has allowed their daughter a greater understanding of the concepts she is now facing. But had that parent and the child had their way several years earlier, they probably would have not recommended this teacher.

The point of the story is that we have to stop focusing on just the immediate results and start thinking more about long-term results and the impact on the teaching profession. Dr. Joseph has made the rate of suspension for black students a key performance indicator(KPI). But how does that translate into getting more students the services they need? How does that directly correlate to academic outcomes? What are the other policy areas that are impacted by this focus? Those are all questions that need to be asked, and in my opinion aren’t getting nearly the attention they deserve. Nobody is arguing for suspending, expelling, or arresting kids, what we are arguing for is being deliberate in getting kids the services they need in a manner that keeps everybody safe and doesn’t take instructional time away from other students,

ABOUT THOSE OUTCOMES

I suspect that the reason that Dr. Joseph focuses more on social issues as opposed to academic outcomes is because those outcomes, quite frankly, are not very good. Now Dr. Joseph regularly produces internal data to try counter that evaluation, but luckily the state provides us with independent data.

This week the TNDOE released it’s report card on schools. A quick look at that data shows MNPS trending in the wrong direction. Look at these scores through the eyes of a parent new to the district, do they fill you with confidence? Look at these scores through the eyes of a parent that receives a recruitment flyer from a charter school, do they fill you with confidence that MNPS is the right choice? Look at these scores through the eyes of an Amazon employee moving to Middle Tennessee with the means to live anywhere in the surrounding areas, do these numbers inspire you to purchase a home in Davidson County?

Equity is extremely important. But equity without excellence should not be acceptable when it comes to our schools, neither should be sacrificed for the other. Over the last several years I’ve pointed out numerous ways that Dr. Joseph’s policies have actually increased inequities and harmed the very students he claimed to be championing. Now the state data is showing that his policies are also impacting excellence. Nobody should find that acceptable.

Yesterday ChalkbeatTN printed an article in which outgoing State Superintendent of Education Candice McQueen was quoted in regard to more schools in Nashville and Memphis being taken over by the state’s Achievement School District.

“Our recommendation will be: As we go into next school year, unless we see some dramatic changes in certain schools, we will move some schools into the Achievement School District,” McQueen told Chalkbeat this week.

Initially when I read this I took it as a sign of McQueen trying to assert a last burst of power by threatening to condemn kids to a failed educational experiment. However, as I read it today, I interpret it as a shot across the  bow for MNPS and their plans concerning priority schools. McQueen has met extensively with the district over the last several months and as such, is well versed in the district’s priority school plan.

If she was confident in that plan, why would she even raise the specter of a state take over of schools? Why would she not instead praise the work being done and express confidence that the districts in question were headed in the right direction in regard to their neediest kids? It is my interpretation that she has seen the plans and feels that for whatever reason they are lacking. They are lacking to such a level that she feels compelled to warn that state takeover is still an option.

Asked why people in Memphis and Nashville should have any faith in the ASD given its abysmal track record, McQueen said any decision to move a school into the state’s district will be because of a lack of confidence that the local district has a good plan “to get students ready for college and career.”

I don’t know that it can get much clearer than that.

I’m going to close today with the an anecdote that Dr. Joseph chose to share today with principals at today’s meeting. According to Dr. Joseph his son said to him, “Since we came to Nashville, you make a whole lot less money,” His reply was, ” Yes son, but I make a difference.”

This is an anecdote that raises many questions for me. Was Joseph not making a difference in Prince George? Joseph makes roughly $327K a year in Nashville without factoring in payments to his retirement fund. The former district head in Prince George County made $280K. Joseph was the number 3 in the district. What was he doing to make such a dramatic difference in his income between PGCS and MNPS? Given his close relationship with Dallas Dance, I have to ask, how much work was he doing for Dance?

Leadership experts consider empathy as one of the 5 core traits of a leader. As it relates to leadership, empathy is described as follows,

Empathy is the capacity that allows a leader to understand the perspectives and feelings of others and foresee the impact of his actions and events on them. Effective communication depends on empathy. Without leader empathy, team morale is fragile.  The leader lacking in empathy is driven by his own needs and blind to or indifferent to the needs of others.   Empathy is not the same as compassion, or caring about others’ needs and experience.  Manipulative and authoritarian leaders can be adept at intuiting other peoples’ vulnerabilities and exploiting them.  Adding the capacity to care about—not just perceive—the experience of others creates a beloved leader.

In that light, I would ask, what would be the purpose of relating a story about money to a group of people who oversee people who’s chief complaint is earned income? How could that story about earning less money have a positive impact on culture? In my opinion, it’s a key indicator of just how wrong Dr. Joseph is for the position he holds and that he lacks the basic traits to effectively lead this districts schools.

Nashville needs an educational leader, not a social warrior. The right person knows the difference between the two and where the roles overlap. Unfortunately, the evidence continues to mount that Dr. Joseph is not that person. I would challenge board members who continually defend him to outline evidence to the contrary using data not created by Dr. Joseph himself.

In his speech to principals today, Dr. Joseph castigated those who would come to board meetings and criticize, “I’m aware of calls to come to board meetings and say what’s wrong. Sign up to come and tell what’s going right.” I would counter that by saying, when I take my car to the garage because of engine trouble, I don’t tell the mechanics how well the brakes are working. You can’t solve a problem until you recognize a problem.

I do agree with Dr. Joseph on one thing, “Our children deserve better.”

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TOP POSTS OF THE YEAR: #3

I’ve been reflecting back on the past year and looking at which blogs were the most popular. I’ve decided that I would reprint the top ones with a little commentary.

One of the most read pieces of the year is actually from two years ago. Back in October of 2016 Williamson County School’s Superintendent Mike Looney agreed to sit down and do an interview with me. I found it to be very enlightening, and as testimony to that assessment, it continues to rack up views.

The past couple of years have presented quite a few personal and professional challenges for Dr. Looney, but through it all, he’s kept his focus on the students and teachers of WCS. The next couple of years are predicted to bring considerable growth to the school district. From what I’m told, these newcomers are bringing with them even higher expectations for the district then what already exists. I know that sounds impossible, but if anyone can navigate those waters, it’s Mike Looney.

I hope you enjoy re-visiting this piece as much as I enjoyed conducting it. WCS you are in good hands.

 

Last week I found myself at Rafferty’s, a restaurant on Nashville’s south side, across the table from Williamson County Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney. In 2015, Dr. Looney was awarded the State Superintendent of the Year from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents. The year, in the words of Charles Dickens, was the best of times and the worst of times for Dr. Looney. Despite being recognized as a superlative school leader, he found himself embroiled in several public battles with Williamson County school board members. He was also named the finalist in Metro Nashville Public Schools’ search for a new Director of Schools only to turn it down at the last minute. The past few months have seen changes on the school board and while things have been just as busy, they are a  little less chaotic, or I should say less filled with public chaos.

During the Nashville superintendent race, Dr. Looney and I became friends. A friendship that grew out of interactions on Twitter and has continued on with us having lunch several times throughout the year. On the occasions we get together, I find a man who is a classroom teacher at heart, and, in my experience, willing to engage in any topic of conversation without fear. I, like many others, was initially angry with him for turning down the Nashville job. However, we had lunch the following week, and he openly shared with me his decision- making process. I came away understanding that he had just changed his mind and had found that he was far more attached to Williamson County than he had realized. Some have charged that he “played the MNPS board” or that his changing his mind is somehow a failure on the part of Nashville’s school board. I reject both premises and tip my hat to Williamson County for realizing that they got one of the good ones and being willing to do what it takes to keep him.

Dad Gone Wild: Good afternoon, Mike. I need to clarify, what’s your official title? District superintendent?

Dr. Mike Looney: I prefer superintendent. The code is a little murky on that; Superintendent and Director of Schools are interchangeable, but I prefer superintendent.

DGW: I always have to ask because some districts have changed the language. They refer to head of the district now as the CEO. Which to me is a little weird. Seems like a blurring of the business world and a service entity. You are in Williamson County, and it seems that your demographics seem to get as much attention as the quality of your schools. Tell me about them.

ML: We’ve got 38,000 kids. Eighty-eight percent of those students are white. As you know, it’s a fairly affluent county, but we’re more diverse than what people think. The Brentwood area is very homogeneous, then you have Fairview which is a lot more rural, and the downtown Franklin areas – in general, Franklin – are a little bit more diverse than what people might think. Honestly, some of our elementary schools have a very transient population. I was in some data meetings just recently with one of my elementary school principals, and 24 percent of their students turn over every year. It’s something we don’t always realize. What sometimes happens is there are minority students who may come in and they stay for six months and then go back home because of their parents’ work. But for the most part, it is a white, affluent community.

DGW: But you are starting to see greater growth in both population and diversity.

ML: Yes, I think that we are seeing the browning of America. We’re not seeing that as quickly as some other places, but we are beginning to see it, especially as it relates to the needs and learning style of the student. One of the things that is unique about our district is that we are a beacon for families that have students with special needs and exceptionalities. So the rate of growth in students with autism, or other needs that require additional services, is surpassing our traditional growth rate because we have a reputation of doing a good job.

DGW: Interesting, because often times people tend to look at your demographics and use them to discount some of your success, but you still have plenty of challenges.

ML: The fascinating thing to me is that the district that I came from before this was a small rural district with a large African American population, and the challenges were exactly the same. It was about helping students, helping families, hiring good employees, and figuring out how to deal with budget issues. That’s not unique to Williamson County, and it’s not unique to any other school districts.

DGW: I was talking to Dr. Ron Woodard, who is a former principal who made the transition from an inner city school to a predominately rural county, and he made a similar observation. At the end of the day, kids are kids, and you end up seeing a lot of the same trends and challenges.

ML: I think the one thing that is different from my experience is, think about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Kids are going to make mistakes, but did they come to school with the fundamentals in place to be successful? For the most part, our kids come to school fed, they’re dressed, they have their physical needs met, and that is different in different locations.

DGW: Good point. You’re ex-military, right?

ML: Yes, I’m a retired Marine. I was actually injured in the Corps and retired. So this is, in some respect, my third career. After I retired from the Marine Corps, I went in to private industry. I worked in private industry for about six years. The interesting story behind that is I was actually on vacation in Germany when my company was sold, and so when I came back, I worked for the new owner for three days. It was a privately held company and their vision – I was in general finance for that company – and their vision of good business practice and mine immediately clashed. So we parted ways. At the time, I was working on my MBA at Jacksonville State. My wife was a teacher, and her principal conned me into subbing at her school because my MBA classes were in the evening. That’s actually how I got into the field of education, as a substitute teacher.

DGW: What district was that in?

ML: That was in Randolph County, Alabama. You may remember that county because it was infamous for racial strikes back in the early 1990’s. The principal had forbidden a biracial couple from going to the prom. The federal court system got involved, and he ended up being sued. Somebody burned down the high school. That was quite a mess at that time.

DGW: So how did you go from Randolph County, Alabama, to Williamson County, Tennessee?

ML: It was not a planned progression. I had to start off being a classroom teacher. I started my first teaching job, aside from being a substitute teacher, in Pell City, Alabama. I taught 4th grade, and then I taught 5th grade. The principal and other people around me encouraged me to get into leadership. I suppose it was because of my military background.

DGW: That makes sense.

ML: I think it was a combination of my military and business backgrounds. You see things differently when you have a different variety of experiences. You might see how to do things differently, more efficiently, and certainly, you learn a lot about leadership. I became an assistant principal in Calhoun County, Alabama, and was quickly promoted to principal, and then four years later to the central office to be assistant to the superintendent. Then I was recruited away from that position to lead the curriculum department in Montgomery, Alabama. There was a change in leadership, and I applied for the superintendent job and was one of the finalists. I was led to believe that I was the heir apparent. It didn’t work out that way, but I quickly was able to secure the superintendency in a relatively nearby district in Butler County and was there for about 6½ years. I loved every day of it, did a lot of good things there, and one day a headhunter called me during the search process here in Williamson County. They had already gone through a search one time unsuccessfully, and so I liked my odds and I liked what I heard from the headhunter and came up here and the rest is history.

DGW: You talk about being a classroom teacher, and I remember something that struck me from one of our previous conversations. You talked about how, as a principal and superintendent, you still go in the classroom to observe teachers and will sometimes teach a little bit of a class yourself. To keep yourself in touch with the classroom experience.

ML: I tell teachers during our new teacher orientation that one of three things is going to happen: either I’m just going to sit there and pretend I am a student and kind of look at things through a student’s lens; or I’m going to walk around and ask questions and might even take pictures of the students’ work and interact with the students; or I might say, hey teacher, will you sit down and have a cup of coffee and let me try this? I think you have to be a teacher first, and it allows me, in some respects, to remember what teachers have to go through every day. It’s a tremendously hard job, and the further you remove yourself from the actual work of the classroom teacher, I think the harder it is for you to remember what’s important.

DGW: That’s another thing Dr. Woodard and I talked about – how quickly you forget what goes on in the front lines when you step off them a little bit. You start making decisions based on the way you think things should be and take less into account of what actually happens.

ML: There’s a big difference between what sounds good in theory and how it actually looks on the ground. I mean the military works the same way, right? You learn that it’s really important to understand what the troops are going through to the fullest extent that you can.

DGW: I read a passage probably about 10 or 15 years ago that described where Napoleon, whenever they were riding into battle, would ride up and down the line talking to the troops. He’d sit at night with individual groups of soldiers and explain to each and every one of them their role and how it fits in the overall scheme, what the hoped-for outcome would be, and why their role was essential. I try to practice that when I can. But it often seems like we don’t do enough of that; we just make demands without ever really explaining how it all fits together.

ML: And I’ll tell you, I’m guilty of this somewhat. I aspire to do better all the time, but it’s really easy to let the bureaucracy of leadership, especially in public schooling, to consume all of your time and forget that you’ve gotta get out in the field. You’ve got to, to the fullest extent possible, have the pulse of what’s happening in the classrooms and in the buildings and make sure you surround yourself with good people who have a similar vision and similar priorities. It’s a family, it’s a work family, and the way to be successful is to communicate and understand the requirements of the work; you have to have empathy.

DGW: In talking with teachers from Williamson County, I think it’s safe to say that you have more support than most administrators.

ML: (Smiling) It depends on the issue. I would say that we have some awesome teachers in Williamson County, and I feel privileged to be part of their team. I hope that they think of me as a reflective and supportive leader, but as with all things in leadership, it’s not necessarily about making people happy; it’s about trying to do the right thing and making people understand why what you’re doing is the right thing to do. It’s about hearing their voice, genuinely listening, and I’ll say the same thing is true for the students. It’s important for teachers to do that with students, and it is important for me to do that with students. One of the things that I do is I have a student committee. Visitors from every high school come visit on regular basis, and I let them tell me what’s working, what’s not working, and give me info about how to change stuff.

DGW: Good stuff. What kind of things have they brought to you?

ML: Well, the most recent thing that we are working on is that they want to participate in the teacher evaluation process. They tell me that when I or a principal walk in the room for an evaluation, things change – conditions, learning conditions change – and they want to be able to give accurate feedback about what they see on a regular basis when there’s not a formal evaluation taking place. It makes sense to me. I don’t know that it has to be part of the evaluation itself, but I do think if we really value voice, then we should give our students a voice about what’s working and what’s not working for them.

DGW: Playing devil’s advocate here – some of the most impactful teachers that I’ve had, if you would have asked me, at 16 years old, how impactful they were, I would’ve told you a different answer than I have now with some separation. In some cases, I think it should be like that. These days we are all about immediacy, but some lessons are like fine wine – they and we need to age a bit. It’s like a really good book. Often while reading it, nothing seems relatable, but then several years later you recall a passage that has become particularly relevant. As I get older and life changes, the light bulb goes off, and I think, “Ha, that’s why they wanted me to do that or that’s why we diagrammed those sentences.”

ML: I think that’s a fear that educators have, but the truth of it is I think you have to ask the right questions. Does the teacher care about you? Do they have empathy? Do they go the extra mile for you? Can you go to them for help? Those are very different questions about whether you like the teacher versus did they assign too much homework or are their tests hard. I think it’s really a conversation about does the teacher have these attributes? And does the student feel safe when they have to go to the teacher for help? One of the things I talk about is building relationships. I encourage my teachers to be able to make a relationship with the students and their families to the fullest they can professionally. If you don’t know the student’s birthday, if you don’t know they had a soccer game last night and the team lost, if you don’t know their dog died, or mom and dad are getting divorced, then it is going to be really hard for you to relate to that student. There’s truth in that students really don’t care about what you want to teach them until they know you care about them.

DGW: It’s funny how much the world has really changed since you and I grew up. I think we’re about the same age; I am 51.

ML: I am 53.

DGW: I think back about what my parents’ reaction would have been if I came home and told them that my teacher didn’t love me or didn’t care about me. My mother would have probably told me to shut up, get in there, take notes, and learn. The world is a different place. I do think that the building of relationships is very important, and I think it is valuable to learn early how important relationships are. I think too much we get caught up in the learning of, I want to say, facts, the learning of stuff that can be measured, and we don’t teach kids the value in making relationships.

ML: Interestingly enough, when I talk to employers, when I talk to the business community, one of the things that they often talk about is that we do well academically. You ask them what needs do they have that we’re not meeting as it relates to the workforce, and they always, they always say critical thinking and the ability to work with others. Which is about relationships. So I think relationships are central to success.

DGW: Looking forward, where do you anticipate the district heading and what kind of challenges do you anticipate facing? One of the things I’ve always admired about you is that you start addressing needs ahead of time. You tend to be more of a driver than a reactor.

ML: So our biggest challenge, quite frankly, is the growth that we’re experiencing. In the next five years, we’re going to grow by about ten thousand students. Managing all of the different areas of operations to prepare for success for those arriving students, students of diversity, students with special needs and talents, having enough classroom space, recruiting the right team members to make sure that we’ve got all the teachers in front of those students, being able to offer bus service in a timely fashion – preparing for the ensuing growth is where the greatest pressure point is. Then, quite frankly, the landscape of public education continues to shift. We’re operating in many ways on quicksand or shifting soil, so being able to adapt to the ever-changing environment and managing change I think is certainly a priority. I honestly am not worried about our achievement because we do well at that. It’s about making sure that we’re offering a well-rounded experience for everybody, a place where employees want to come to work. One that inspires loyalty and where the students can maximize the opportunities that we put before them to grow as much as possible, whether it’s in academics, arts, or athletics. I’d also say navigating the political labyrinth that exists in this state right now, as it relates to philosophical positions about how to best go about this challenging business of educating the youth.

DGW: Speaking of that, one of the things that sucks the air out of all conversations is talking about charter schools. I’m at the point now where I really embrace the concept that we can oppose them all we want, but if we’re not producing schools where people want to send their children, this will be an endless battle. How are you going to look at a parent and say, “Hey, we are not going to have charter schools, but you have to send your child to this under-resourced school.” Instead of focusing on keeping charter schools out of Williamson County, you seem to focus on keeping schools that everybody deserves, ones that are equitable.

ML: Well, quite honestly, we’re trying to steal some of the principles that charter schools have created. I really think it’s about the quality of the school, not the type. Charter schools are, I think, a result of our inflexibility to be responsive to the needs of students. The best way to keep away competition is to do a really good job at educating children, and so our focus is on making sure we are doing exceptional work. Therefore, we are giving a top-tier education to our students, and then there’s not a need for a charter school. There are challenges, obviously, that charter schools create. I think they create more bureaucracy and overhead and separate management systems. You take limited resources and you spread them thinner. I drive a Chevrolet. I’m satisfied with my Chevrolet. If they ever stop performing at a high level, then I’ll go to another manufacturer, but right now I’m satisfied with Chevrolet.

DGW: A blogger from Pennsylvania who is one of my favorites, Curmudgucation, always says parents don’t want more choice, they want more quality.

ML: That’s right. I believe that.

DGW: The only time you want more choices is when you’re not getting quality. I think that we need to focus on our existing schools and that sometimes we get away from this in these other arguments. I think the charter discussion is an important one, but the focus needs to be on playing offense and not defense. Now, let’s talk about your skydiving business.

ML: I am the owner of Music City Skydiving. It’s my passion. I think it’s how I keep my sanity on the weekends. Actually, I’ll tell you the truth – if I don’t get to skydive on the weekend, the next week I’m a little bit grouchier than normal. It’s like I missed the adrenaline rush. I just love being outside and interacting with people from all walks of life.

DGW: And how long have you had that company?

ML: I’ve been in skydiving for a long time, but I actually purchased the business a year ago, the entire business. I owned a segment of the business for I guess, two years, but had an opportunity and jumped on that.

DGW: That sounds exciting. So, anything that we missed? I know our conversations are always a little wide-ranging.

ML: No. I will tell you I appreciate reading your blog, and hopefully, this’ll be an interesting one for other readers. Also, the more the community comes together and has conversations about doing what’s right for kids, the stronger we will become.

DGW: That’s one of the reasons why I started doing these interviews. I think it’s important that we remember when discussing these issues, that we are arguing, sometimes quite passionately, with real people, and we never lose sight of that.

ML: I am disappointed when we don’t debate public policies because I think you end up with better public policy after debate. I’m a flawed individual, I have flawed ideas, and my ideas can be perfected or be replaced with better ideas during debate.

DGW: What I tell my kids is don’t get upset if somebody challenges your beliefs. Because if your belief system can’t withstand challenge, then you need to modify your belief system or you need to study your belief system more deeply.

ML: Absolutely.

DGW: And I’m not one of those people who thinks that we should all come together and hold hands and that there’s no room for passionate disagreement. Education is too important a subject, and so I don’t mind the passion. But at the end of the day, we do have to remember that there are parents and family members and people who love every one of us. We need to make sure that we don’t completely lose sight of that, and that’s why I started doing these interviews.

ML: And I’m sorry, but I’ve never met a parent who says I’m going to send you my worst child and keep my good ones at home. So they’re sending their best to us every single day, and they’re doing the best job they know how to do. They all have different levels of ability and skill, empathy, passion, and compassion, but they’re sending us the best. They’re doing their best, and it’s about us having empathy for one another and lifting the boys and girls to a higher level.

We pay our bill and head out to the parking lot exchanging pleasantries about the family. He apologized again about being late. He’d been in the office working, since it was a holiday, he was able to concentrate uninterrupted. Again I waved him off and said it was understood. As I pulled out of the parking lot, it struck me that once again after leaving a conversation with Mike Looney I felt like I knew more then I did before the conversation. The man truly adheres to Dewey’s principle that education isn’t preparation for life  but rather  life  itself.

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WHO CAN PREDICT THE FUTURE?

“Maybe the truth was, it shouldn’t be so easy to be amazing. Then everything would be. It’s the things you fight for and struggle with before earning that have the greatest worth. When something’s difficult to come by, you’ll do that much more to make sure it’s even harder–if not impossible–to lose.”
Sarah Dessen, Along for the Ride

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Christmas Eve arrived and I just felt as if I had nothing to say that would jibe with the holiday spirit and so I passed on writing a new Dad Gone Wild piece. Christmas Day arrived and the hours were filled with family obligations. Wednesday the sun came up and I was perusing various social media posts when I stumbled upon a piece from Education Post, If You Want to Keep Kids in Your School, Parents Need to Buy What You’re Selling.

This article struck me as wrong on so many levels, yet it also served as a key to open the door on flaws with the choice movement.

No matter the school, the goal is to ensure students know and feel that they are welcomed, valued and that the staff appreciates students attending every day. It is important that this feeling extends to parents as well. Essentially, parents and students serve as customers to those working in schools.

Yikes! Is that really where we are now? Parents send their kids to schools be welcomed, valued, and appreciated as opposed to being educated? I know many of you will argue that the two go hand in hand but still, the primary focus of schools should be to educate children not to be substitute family units for them. So instead of writing, I did some reading and that’s how we arrived at today’s piece as the first in a week.

When it comes to school choice, my first question would be, should it be just students and families that are appreciated for attending every day? Shouldn’t those same families and students be appreciative that there are teachers willing to teach and buildings to house them on a daily basis? Instead of taking the opportunity to attend publicly funded schools for granted, should there not be some instilling of appreciation?

This is where the canard of choice takes root. Instead of looking at education as a public good, choice argues that education is a commodity, not dissimilar from a six-pack of Coke, a new car, or an insurance policy. The only difference is that education is also touted as a right, therefore consumers should be able to utilize federal, state, and local dollars in order to make their purchase. What is ignored in that in treating education as a commodity, invariably it translates into more access for some and less access for others. I’ve repeatedly asked for an explanation on how choice and equity can coexist, with nothing but the proverbial crickets in response.

My argument hinges on the premise that if you turn education into a commodity, then you turn students and families into consumers and not all consumers are equal. Look at the previous insurance example. The quality of the product you purchase is going to correlate with the depth of knowledge you have about the product. Those with more time to research, a greater ability to understand the intricacies of the policies, and the resources to explore more options will have an advantage in the marketplace. The same holds true if you treat education as a commodity.

One of the biggest canards, that is repeated ad nauseam, is that nobody knows better than the parents what’s best for the kid. Think about that for a second, if it were true there would be no need for foster care, juvenile courts, or child psychologists. Parents would just apply their all-knowing powers and, walla walla, things would be optimal for all kids. The truth is, most of us need all the help we can get.

As a parent of two pre-teens I can testify, I have no idea what’s best for their future success. I know how to love them and I do my best to feed, clothe, and house them, but my daughter has hit puberty and there are days where I think she’s been possessed by three different people in the span of an hour. Other days I watch my son interact with his friends when they don’t think I’m paying attention, and I’m mesmerized by this strange creature who while made from my flesh is an entirely different entity.

There was a popular postulate when I was growing up that parents should encourage their kids to have a relationship with another adult. An adult besides their parent, one that they can trust and confide in. The reason being, that there are many things that kids won’t address with their parents.

Whoa now, before you start protesting that you have a deep bond of trust with your child and they tell you everything, let me just say we both know that is not true. All children have parts of themselves they only share with peers, or teachers, or mentors. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it a sign of a lesser relationship. It’s just what it is. Being that it is, there is no way that two adults can know with absolute clarity what is best for a child. They may know what’s best for that child as it relates to them and their feelings of comfort, but who’s to say that’s what is best for the child and its future?

As part of my reading this past week I read an article by Kay West in the Nashville Scene, A Long Haul. It was written almost 18 ago to the day, and after listing a laundry list of issues faced by MNPS, West closes with the following,

Regardless, all of us have an interest in seeing our city’s public schools improve. Longtime education advocate Nelsen Andrews shrewdly notes that if you want to see the future of Nashville, all you need to do is look at its public schools.

I assume she was trying to predict the future, but it’s a future that didn’t come to fruition. Today Nashville is growing faster and booming at a rate higher than ever, despite our failure to address the issues of the city’s educational system. I’m not offering this as an excuse for us to do nothing about our schools, but rather as evidence that predicting the future is near impossible.

I used to say that people buy insurance as much for its future benefits as for the comfort it brings them today. Insurance allows you to go to bed at night knowing that if something bad happens in the future, someone will show up and make it better. We all want to make sure the future is as comfortable as possible. School Choice preys upon that fear. It allows a parent to feel as if they are doing their job and guaranteeing a better future for their child. The problem is life doesn’t come with guarantees.

It’d be nice if we could go into the market of life and purchase 8 pounds of literacy, 7 pounds of math, 3 pounds of critical thinking, and 2 and 1/2 pounds of self-esteem, go home and mix it all up into a successful life. It doesn’t work like that though. Life turns on a dime and the future is influenced by all kinds of factors – intended and unintended. There is no way of knowing where the sparks of the future will derive from. As I said earlier, to parents that is a scary proposition and choice plays upon that fear. It makes parents believe that they are not just choosing an education for children today, but rather securing a successful tomorrow.

The ironic thing about choice is that it gives the illusion that it is the consumer that is making the choice while all along it’s the producer that’s actually doing the choosing. The hip restaurant in town may have “All Welcome” as a slogan, but in reality, they don’t really want the coffee drinking, stay-all-day, customer. Insurance companies may tell you they’ll cover everybody but they don’t want the unhealthy accident prone. Or as I’ve said before, the team may be called the Tennessee Titans, but if you can’t drop a hundred bucks at a game, they don’t really want you in the stadium. Things work no different when it comes to education.

Schools don’t really want the hard to educate. Those students require costly specialized services and accommodations. If you fall into the desired demographics for a choice system – ability to be involved, access to transportation, ability to search out information – choice sounds fantastic. It plays into those American narratives of pulling your self up by your bootstraps and rugged individualism. The truth is always messier than the myth. If you happen to fall outside of the chosen demographics, it can be downright devastating.

You see, choice always means winners and losers and the two usually congregate together. What invariably happens is that those with limited resources tend to end up in the same school. A school that due to the high cost of educating those of limited resources, ends up terminally underfunded. You see, public education works a lot like an insurance pool.

In an insurance pool the premiums of the healthy help to pay the cost of medical care for the less healthy. With public schools the children that are less costly to educate help balance out those that are more costly to educate. I know we all like the idea that our taxes translate into a backpack of cash for each child, but that just ain’t how it works. The state may designate $9800 per child, but that doesn’t translate into each child costing $9800 to educate. Educating some kids may only cost $7300, for some it may be $14k. Obviously, a school would like a lot more $7300 students than $14k students, at the very least they are looking for a balance.

Most of you are probably familiar with the strategy of offering tutoring services to so-called “bubble kids”. It is an often used strategy whereby instead of offering tutoring resources to those most in need, a school will choose kids who sit on the bubble of pass or fail and provide tutoring services to them. The theory being that no amount of tutoring would lead to passing scores by the neediest on the standardized test, but the bubble kids may do well enough to paint the school in a better light.

Schools choose the same way. This isn’t a criticism directed at just charter schools, traditional schools are just as complicit in the process. The more of those high achieving kids and bubble kids they can get, the better it all looks. The better it all looks today the more parents can convince themselves the better it looks in the future. What do you think the whole purpose of the MNPS School Choice Festival is? It is nothing but a recruiting tool for those perceived high-achieving schools. Recruitment which invariably leads to further segregation, racially and economically,  of students.

One last thing to consider, sometimes a little discomfort today leads to better outcomes in the future. How often have we gone through an uncomfortable situation only to understand its importance upon reflection? How will a student handle a terrible boss in the future if they never got through a year with a teacher that they didn’t bond with? How will you ever self motivate if every day as a child, adults were consumed with making sure that you were engaged? How will you ever know the value of education if you never are put in a position where you have to fight for it?

Read enough biographies and you will notice a pattern. Quite often the subject was exposed to horrible conditions as a child. They had to overcome poverty, domestic violence, alcoholism, or some other malady in order to succeed. The exposure to these horrible conditions created a desire to soar to heights that they might never have aspired to without being exposed to the trauma they faced. Obviously, nobody is proposing that mistreating children is the path towards future success, but perhaps the lesson should be that rigging the game for comfort in the present can have unforeseen consequences in the future. Lessons come in all shapes and sizes, and its impossible to predict which will resonate and which will fade from memory.

My personal choice would be to ensure that all children have access to quality schools. Quality that is determined and measured more by educators and parents collectively, than politicians and millionaires individually. I’ll advocate for what I feel are best practices, but in the end, it should be those actually doing the work who should be driving the bus. Parents and educators should work in a symbiotic manner, not one where one is a producer consumed with convincing the other that they’ve made the right choice.

So until we come up with a way to predict the future, my school choice will continue to be working on improving a system that is a common good and not a commodity. My choice will be to empower those who seek to improve the system and not those who seek to develop a better business model.

In my readings, I came across an article from the Nashville Scene written by Roger Abramson in 2008. I’d like to leave you with a quote from that article that should give us some further thoughts to chew on,

One major problem with what passes for policy discourse on education issues has been the use and misuse of terminology, especially that which describes schools in general. Public school advocates hold up “good schools” for acclaim, while public school reformers like to use “bad schools” as examples of failures. For purposes of real discussion, however, these terms are essentially meaningless, not because they hurt people’s feelings, but because everyone has his own definition of what a “good” or “bad” school actually is. Some people make their evaluation in terms of academics, some in terms of what types of students attend a school, still others in terms of how much money flows into a school. Some—many parents fall into this category—apply a “day care” paradigm to schools: Was my child’s every need and desire acknowledged and attended to during the day? If so, then it’s a good school, irrespective of whether the child is actually learning anything.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

MNPS High School students start school at 7am every morning Monday thru Friday. That start time is among the earliest in the country and has been for almost 20 years. Once again the subject of changing those times is being broached. It’s not a new conversation. It’s one not dissimilar from last years conversation on moving 5th grade back to elementary school. A policy with strong arguments for change, but a lack of resources to make the change.

Last year, Williamson County studied start times and made a slight adjustment, high school start times were moved to 7:40 and elementary moved to 8:50. It is a change that has produced mixed results. A prolonged conversation is unlikely to produce any new barriers or solutions. Something acknowledged by school board member Gini Pupo-Walker who is driving the renewed conversation.

“A barrier previously was the fiscal note attached, and that is a legitimate issue,” Pupo-Walker said. “We don’t have money, as is, and I am not going to propose we buy 50 buses to undertake this change.”

It is a subject that was raised over two years ago when Dr. Joseph arrived and while acknowledged as important, produced no follow up in the ensuing years. So why this conversation and why now?

I suspect the subject is being broached for a number of political reasons. First of all, this issue is a prominent one for West Nashville parents, many of which were less than thrilled with Pupo-Walker’s vote for school board chair. It should also be noted that many of her personal mentors and allies have left their previous positions of power. Renata Soto has resigned her leadership at Conexion. Megan Barry is no longer the Mayor of Nashville and Candice McQueen has left the Tennessee Department of Education. That’s a lot of political clout to lose in a six month period and it wouldn’t be the first time a politician utilized a populist position to shore up support.

Experience has also taught me that if politicians are leading you towards one conversation, there is usually a conversation that they don’t want you to have. January’s calendar is filled with potential pitfalls for MNPS leadership. The Tennessee State School board is expected to discuss discipline reporting infractions committed by Dr. Joseph. Bone, McAllester, Norton PLLC is set to deliver their overdue report on HR practices, it was initially scheduled to be completed in November. Dr. Joseph’s evaluation is expected to be conducted and is sure to include his handling of sexual harassment allegations. The teacher compensation committee is slated to report to the board ahead of budget talks. Not to mention that new lawsuits continue to fall semi-regularly against the district. Talks about school start times would pit stakeholders against each other as opposed to demanding accountability from district leadership. Setting a more favorable agenda is not a bad strategy.

All of this adds up to a January that should be chock-full of activity for MNPS. Unfortunately very little of it student-centered. January will be followed by the beginning of this years budget process. One that could prove to be even more contentious than last year. In other words, enjoy your rest and then buckle up, because the crazy is sure to heat back up.

LAST WEEK’S WRITE-INS

I know this week’s post is already too long but I’d be remiss if I didn’t do a quick recap from last week’s poll.

Question 1 asked, How much credence do you give the chamber’s report card?

The number 1 answer with 44% of the responses was “an academic exercise by people with no skin in the game”. Here are the write-ins:

They know nothing. You’re not in the building, you don’t know. 1
Someone trying to find a positive spin on the —— show at MNPS. 1
Used to serve political agendas while ignoring actual facts 1
How many teachers did they ask for and received input? 1
SEL succeeds with no budget? Where’s the support? 1
Worthless. Why don’t we spend time finding ways to retain quality teachers? 1
It’s meaningless! They don’t dig deep but just listen to SJ and cronies. 1
Rich White Folks pretending to care 1
too much disconnect 1
Comes out every year & nothing changes

The number 2 question asked if you were bothered by the delay in report cards. Two answers dueled for the number one spot, “Very. We can’t seem to adhere to any policies” and “I think it’s perfectly fine and am grateful they gave teachers more time.” Here are the write-ins:

Don’t care. Give me my cost of living raise. 1
See over 200 separate students/day. Grades were done before i left for Break. 1
It’s annoying for seniors hoping for that second semester on transcript. 1
If they had listened to teachers in the first place, no change would’ve been nee 1
More evidence of gross incompetence ! 1
more bothered by what gets rptd than by delay. Crushing workload for teachers. 1
Sophisticated metrics are probably best BUT simple metrics typically tell story 1
Like additional time for teachers, but why the late announcement?

The third question asked, “How do you feel about the recommendation of each school appointing one peer-elected teacher to lead SEL efforts?” The number one vote was, at 30%, “I do not need another person “offering me feedback”” and closely behind was, “the devil is in the details.” Here are the write-ins:

Is that an additional job duty? If so, big fat “no” 1
We had a kid looking at porn on a school computer. SEL works? Discipline works. 1
I don’t think any teacher wants to add another thing to their plate. 1
In how many schools would adding FACULTY, rather than SEL people, do more good?? 1
Stupid idea 1
We need more teacher lead anything. They are the only ones I trust 1
Don’t see the point. No one really cares about SEL. Sad but true. 1
More stuff to do 1
If School Counselors weren’t doing paperwork all day, it’d be great for all

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Lately, I’ve been promoting local school’s teacher of the year winners. Send me a picture of your winner and I’ll be happy to promote them.

If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

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WHO DO WE WANT TO BE?

“[They] agreed that it was neither possible nor necessary to educate people who never questioned anything.”
Joseph Heller, Catch-22

“If I am right, Thy grace impart
Still in the right to stay;
If I am wrong, O, teach my heart
To find that better way!”
Alexander Pope, Moral Essays

As I wrote on Wednesday, this week saw the release of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee’s Education Report Card. The release of the report card sparked some conversation and several people voiced disagreements with my post on Wednesday.

They pointed out that I chose to focus on just a few items from a very large report, something I did in a vain attempt to practice some brevity. I would also offer that I was attempting to further limit criticism as well. For example, let’s look at what the Chamber chose to praise:

 

  • The district was commended for its pioneering efforts in SEL work. The district has been recognized as a national leader for its work in several schools.
  • The chamber highlighted Nashville public schools’ willingness to partner with outside community groups to better schools.
  • The committee also recognized the district’s initiatives to pay for advanced academics tests such as Advanced Placement and industry certifications.
  • The chamber group also commended the district for the creation of a scorecard that is more transparent and accessible in how it tracks district and school performance.
  • And Nashville public schools leadership was praised for using tests that benchmark student learning against the rest of the nation.

Item number two is basically a willingness to play nice with others. Really? That’s where the bar lies? Cooperating with local businesses that are trying to help you scores an “A”? Meanwhile by his own admission, Dr. Joseph has put no extra effort into furthering parental engagement. Recently talks began to revive the Parent Advisory Committee but that it still in the very formative stages and we won’t see any fruition from those efforts until next year at the earliest.  So while yes, there are some community groups as a whole doing good work, MNPS has not done more to increase parental involvement. In my eyes that is a critical fail.

Line item 5 talks about a scorecard that makes the districts KPI’s more transparent and accessible. I have yet to see such a tool. In looking at the beautiful booklet produced by the RC committee I see a description, but I don’t see a link to the tool or where to access it. There is no indication as to whether its something I find on the web site or an item that comes home with my child. Nor do I see any mention that the district has reduced the number of key performance indicators to 3.

  • Literacy rates
  • Suspension of black students
  • chronic absenteeism

If the RC Committee is going to praise a tool, shouldn’t they at least tell me how to get it? Shouldn’t part of the evaluation on transparency and accessible include parents being able to locate said tool?

Number 4 refers to MAP testing. Riddle me this, if I showed up to your home remodeling site with a screwdriver when it was clear that a hammer was needed, would you praise me, “Awesome TC! You brought a tool! It’s not the right tool but you brought one so you get an “A”!”

It sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? You shouldn’t earn praise just for bringing a tool, but rather for bringing the right tool. Furthermore, how can you hold any conversation about MAP testing without pointing out that 13% of the students took the test without accommodations that they should have by rights been granted, and then those students turned around and took the test 3 months later with their rights restored? Kinda a big deal. no?

Back to the parent portion of the program. All you parents who have been educated on MAP testing raise your hand. Can you tell me what a RIT score is? Can you tell me how weeks of instruction come into play? How about why we test in November? Using shouldn’t be enough and making people familiar with the testing shouldn’t be just for extra credit.

Don’t get me started on the paying of fees for advanced academic testing. That initiative was one of the few positive stories of last year. The policy resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of kids who were able to participate in advanced academics, whom in past would not have been able to participate. Yet, despite this success, the funding found itself on the cutting room floor at the close of last years budget season. It was only through Metro Council’s increased funding, that it was able to continue this year. I question at what cost though. How many kids who would have participated in advanced academics chose not to, due to the uncertainty around funding for tests?

The last item on the list is certainly deserving. From the SEL convention to Mathew Portel’s groundbreaking work at Fall-Hamilton, and on through to the individual classroom, MNPS is doing exemplary work in the area of SEL. As such, they deserve all the recognition they gather.

The question now becomes, “Ok fine TC, it is easy to criticize, but what would you have on the commendation list?”

At the top of my list would be teachers. Somebody needs to recognize that it is an absolute miracle that they show up every day and continue to give 100% despite the never-ending list of challenges thrown in their way. Whenever I start talking to teachers I flash on that commercial of OJ Simpson running through the airport while dodging obstacles. That’s exactly what we do to our teachers daily, and yet somehow they manage to perform like champs every day.

Second on the list would be the students. We expose them to lead in their drinking water, house them in portables and crumbling schools, ignore their IUPs, subject them to canned curriculum, and fail to ensure that they will have a teacher in every class they attend, yet they find ways to achieve and grow every day. Walk through any MNPS school and you’ll see children learning and growing in amazing ways. Look at their work on the walls and you can’t help but be inspired and get a sense that the future is good hands. They certainly deserve accolades for overcoming the failings of adults

I would commend the Disney in Schools program. Through this program, students have gotten an opportunity to experience the arts in a way they haven’t for years. Tusculum ES hadn’t had a stage production in 5 years and Disney allowed them the opportunity to rectify that shortcoming. If you haven’t attended a school’s Disney production, I strongly urge you to do so.

Last on my list, but not in my heart, would be all the service workers you see, but overlook, who make our schools run. The bus drivers that handle extremely dangerous situations every day. The crossing guards that stand for hours in weather that isn’t fit for man nor beast. The cafeteria workers that not only serve nutritional meals but also guide our students through daily interactions. The custodians who keep the buildings clean and the security officers who keep them safe. The para-pros that assist our neediest students while being paid a salary that would be considered a pittance even by third world standards. The bookkeepers, the receptionists, the clerks, all who keep the schools running but never seem to make it into any lists of appreciations. I cite you all, and more, and thank you. You are the ones that need to be mentioned in any grading of our schools.

These are the things that would I commend in connection with MNPS. These are the areas where the little miracles happen daily. The next question becomes, “Why not focus on these areas and not focus on Dr. Joseph and his shortcomings?” It’s because leadership matters and without quality leadership, we can’t soar like we are capable of.

WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS

Back before he was forced to resign, I used to meet on a regular basis with Joseph associate Mo Carrasco, We would have long talks about leadership. He would continually try to explain to me how he was trying to rectify the existing culture through principals. To be fair, he had some very good ideas, but despite the quality of those ideas they were still attempting to lead from the middle and that will never be successful.

You would be shocked at how many people think that since they have been given a title, a position, and a salary, they are leaders. As such, they maintain that they get to dictate to underlings what to do and that is the primary purpose of their job. They call the shots.  People can either get in line or begone. What’s the line Dr. Joseph is fond of? You can get on the bus or you can get run over the boss.

That is not the way it works in today’s world if it ever worked like that. Today’s leader needs to be more of a facilitator. You only get to be a leader if the people you are charged with leading decide to follow you. If they don’t, you may have the title, the position, and the salary, but you are not a leader. What I have discovered over the years is that once people choose not to follow you, they become really adept at making you believe they are following you while continually subtly undermining you. That undermining means that you as a leader may not outwardly clearly fail but rather you and the organization will become rooted in mediocrity. As blogger Lucy Tallon writes in her blog,

Gone are the days of hierarchical structures where strict rules and measures are imposed upon employees to be the most productive through command and control. Today organisations have a culture of design and provoke experimenting where employees are empowered to be their own leaders. Organisations are ‘organisms’ constantly evolving and changing.

A true leader is one who communicates the vision and supplies the resources for the team to succeed. He creates a culture that leads to growth and success.  As the facilitator of the culture, he creates an environment where individual initiatives fail or succeed; where talent flourishes or it is stifled. Under poor leadership, talented individuals can still produce quality work but it won’t be scalable and as they continue to bump against the ceiling created by the leadership they will eventually become disillusioned and either scale back initiative or leave. There is a prevailing theory that has at its premise people don’t leave jobs, they leave managers. I tend to agree.

Let’s go to the sports world for some examples. Look at the NBA’s New York Knicks, under the leadership of owner James Dolan they’ve had 20 years of failure despite employing some extremely talented executives and players. Heck, they even brought in a man who has 9 championship rings to be GM. He failed because you can’t change the culture from the middle. Look close at Dolan, and you’ll see he and Dr. Joseph share many of the same traits and as a result have produced many of the same outcomes.

Now let’s look at the NFL’s Cleveland Brown’s. Hue Jackson took over as head coach the same year Joseph took over MNPS. The Browns were an organization with a dysfunctional culture and a history of losing. None of that was his fault, but it was the reality and it was his job to change that culture and produce wins. During his tenure, there were little positive things happening here and there in different areas of the Browns organizations, and there were some near wins, but no real success.

The Browns had talented receivers and parts of the defense were good. In other words, there were some small-scale feel-good areas that allowed Jackson examples to offer up as signs of positive growth. Still, the bottom line remained, the team wasn’t winning games. Sure they got close a couple of times and some players racked up good individual stats, but the wins weren’t coming. The only KPI that matters in the NFL.

Seven weeks ago the Brown’s fired Jackon and hired Gregg Williams. Since then the team has gone 4-2 and is on the cusp of its first winning season in a decade.

Williams has won over his players, who feel his attention to detail and demand for accountability has brought out the best in them. He’s also endeared himself to a segment of battle-scarred Cleveland fans, who would hate to see Williams leave and prosper elsewhere after his successful substitute stint.

Williams was dealt the same hand as Jackson but has created a culture where players are excited to play for him and willing to put in the extra work in order to succeed, something Jackson was incapable of doing. That’s why leadership is so important. Williams created a culture that inspired engagement and success for all, while Jackson’s looked for compliance and success for the coach.

This is what I wished the report card committee would have gone covered more in more depth. Sure they made some recommendations, some of which have merit and may produce positive results. But how much chance do these succeed in an environment that doesn’t nurture them?

  1. The Nashville public schools board should enact, except in the worst cases, a policy that ends out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or arrests in pre-k through 4th grade.
  2. The district should create a program that identifies and develops principal mentors that can help emphasize and help establish a less punitive school culture, as well as foster community resources to enhance SEL efforts and academic achievement.
  3. The district should require every school to identify one peer-elected teacher to lead SEL efforts. The teacher would support and train other teachers, as well as provide teacher feedback and communicate directly with administrators.
  4. The district, along with community partners, should conduct a needs assessment of the district’s four clusters of schools that align resources for students and families.
  5. The Mayor’s Office should create a team of school district, Metro government, and business and nonprofit representatives to consider the impact of the city’s growth on the city’s youngest Nashvillians. The committee would specifically focus on gentrification, displacement and how services to address the issues serve families with children.

Look at them closely and you’ll see that the only chance that these recommendations have at success is if the director creates a culture that gets buy-in and empowers people to develop initiatives based on these recommendations. Otherwise, they are not dissimilar for a football team’s receivers to get faster or their linebackers to get stronger. Sure, they’ll make everybody a little better but will they alone produce the big wins we should be after?

It should also be noted that two of the recommendations call for more studies in a district that has been over-studied since 2011. There is more than enough data to guide us. One of the recommendations should have been no more polls, no more focus groups, no more surveys until you use previously collected data to produce results.

There is an article out in today’s Tennessean that talks about the decline in enrollment at MNPS over the last two years. So far it is a small dip, but one we should not ignore. The writer, Jason Gonzales, attributes the decline to gentrification. I’m sure that is a contributing factor, but if it was the main driver, wouldn’t charter school enrolments be dropping as well? They are not.

Back in my restaurant days, when people stopped coming, they didn’t tell you that your servers were rude, your bathrooms were dirty, and your food was overcooked, they just stopped coming. When you saw them in the street 6 months later, they offered no further clarifications, just that they’d tried to stop in soon, but they never did. The same holds true for schools. Families will vote with their feet and there is no guarantee that they will give advanced warning before doing so. They will just go, with no explanation.

If those families with options choose to leave, what will remain is a district that serves only those with no options. That’s when things will become really costly. We may end up funding schools at 16k per student, but it will be out of necessity and not out of desire. That would prove devastating to the Metro Nashville’s Public Education system.

I’d like to close with Dr. Joseph’s Christmas cheer video

 

If you watch the video you will see images included of the former mayor of Nashville, who was forced to resign, and the previous school board. There is none of the current Mayor or the current school board. This is indicative of the culture taking root in MNPS. We do things quickly, with no attention to detail and just to say that they’ve been done. If you need further evidence, just look to our inability to adhere to a report card schedule, the changing of grading policy for middle schools, or the newly enacted discipline policy for elementary school, just to name a few.

My point is, we can continue to scramble around looking for the isolated feel-good stories – always available because of the dedicated people doing the work – or we can take the needed steps in order to ensure that we start winning games on the main stage. Not to belabor a point, but MNPS will not progress without a change in leadership. The decision now, is do we want to be the New York Knicks or do we want to be the 2018 Cleveland Browns? That’s on us.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

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OF LAWSUITS AND REPORT CARDS

“Without magic, there is no art. Without art, there is no idealism. Without idealism, there is no integrity. Without integrity, there is nothing but production.”
Raymond Chandler

“You risked your life, but what else have you ever risked? Have you risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous about risking one’s life. So you lose it, you go to your hero’s heaven and everything is milk and honey ’til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That’s not courage. Real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one’s clichés.”
Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

On Monday the latest lawsuit involving Metro Nashville Public Schools and their Human Resources department was filed. This one was filed by former human resources investigator Scott Lindsey and paints a picture of an HR department that exists to serve the director of schools instead of the school system.

The lawsuit is tied to ongoing issues with MNPS’s human resources department that has already resulted in several lawsuits and necessitated an outside analysis by local law firm Bone Mcallister. Interestingly enough the Tennessean article on Lindsey’s lawsuit chooses to focus on the connection with a lawsuit filed against former JFK principal Sam Braden, though the roots of the issue clearly stem from the handling of the investigation into Joseph associate and former MNPS executive Mo Carrasco.

Lindsey, a seven-year veteran of MNPS, was a well-respected employee with exemplary performance reviews up until his findings on the Carrasco case led to Carrasco being forced to resign. Carrasco and Joseph have a history together that stretches back to when Joseph was the principal for Carrasco’s child and went through his principal training program. Carrasco also helped train central office staff during Joseph’s tenure as director in the Seaford County School District. After Lindsey’s investigation failed to produce the desired results of exonerating Carrasco, his work was constantly questioned and picked apart by HR number 2 Sharon Pertiller.

Pertiller inserted herself into the Carrasco case in spite of having a complaint filed against her by one of the women involved in the complaint against Carrasco. She clearly should have recused herself, but chose instead to try to use her position to influence the investigation in order to protect Dr.Joseph. Failing in that endeavor, she chose to punish the chief investigator that had uncovered facts that ran counter to leadership’s desired narrative.

There have been whispers that Lindsey, in filing his lawsuit, is just “trying to get paid.” Of course, those doing the whispering don’t counter the facts and MNPS itself has conceded that much of what is in the Braden lawsuit is factual and as a result, Lindsey has good cause to file a lawsuit. MNPS has reportedly already begun mediation with the former employees. An already underfunded school district can ill afford to pay out additional expenditures due to leadership ineptitude. Unfortunately little has been done to correct things, and I’m sure this won’t be the last lawsuit filed.

CHAMBER OF COMMERCE REPORT CARD UNVEILED

Tuesday saw the unveiling of this year’s Chamber Report Card on Education. Annually the chamber forms a committee that looks at data, visits a few schools, and then postulates about what the district should do for kids they’ll never interact with. That may seem a little harsh, but it is the reality. Though I should clarify, that comment is directed at the Chamber itself and not the Report Card Committee. I’d be remiss if I didn’t note that many of the members who serve on the committee are in our high need schools on a weekly basis doing exemplary work. For that they deserve recognition.

This year’s criticism is rooted in my observations standing in the lobby before the presentation and watching people act is if the district is not creating policies that hurt kids and endanger teachers. The dichotomy between being a parent caught up in the personal ramifications of district policy and being an observer of the demeanor of those creating the policy was a bit more jarring than usual. I know that I’m supposed to fight against coming off as an angry man, but on the flip side, I get angry because more people aren’t angry. My wife ofter accuses me of being hyper critical and perhaps thats a fair criticism. That said, unlike some others, I don’t completely dismiss the work of the chamber’s education committee and welcome their attention to our schools.

I’m a big believer that we need more people involved in the conversation about MNPS, not less. So while I may not agree with the findings of the chamber committee and I may take the exception to their methods, I wholeheartedly appreciate their involvement and am grateful for the work they do. I mean that with all sincerity, despite the fact that in the past too much of their findings have been agenda driven. I think there are some very dedicated people dedicated to changing that narrative, and they should be applauded.

This year’s presentation, with its focus on social-emotional learning, was a little difficult for me. Out of respect for my children’s privacy, I won’t go too much into detail, but suffice it to say that we as a family are struggling with the ramifications of the districts discipline policy. As a result, we are being forced to re-examine our commitment to our public school and are having to have very difficult conversations with our children. Conversions that make me a little emotionally raw. I’m sure other parents can relate.

I drop my children off at school every morning, and to leave them in an uncertain situation and then walk into another room whose occupants were focused on schools but were miles removed from reality, was a very difficult proposition. One I probably didn’t handle the best I could have, but I am a work in progress. I almost left before the presentation began, and am grateful for those who encouraged me to stay.

There are many things about yesterday’s report card unveiling that I could discuss. Some of which I need to dig into deeper. Talk to more people, In the interest of what passes for brevity with me, I’ll only focus on a few.

I don’t think anybody disagrees with the spirit of the committee’s number one recommendation:

The Nashville public schools board should enact, except in the worst cases, a policy that ends out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or arrests in pre-k through 4th grade.

Nobody wants to suspend, expel, or arrest kids in kindergarten through 4th grade. And yes, implied bias does exist and an inordinate amount of black children are suspended. But there are also thousands of black children that go to school every day to focus on learning and can’t due to class disruptions. There is also the impact of poverty and trauma on students that can’t be minimized.

Back before Thanksgiving, Dr. Joseph enacted a policy of not suspending, expelling, or arresting kids in K-4. What this policy didn’t include was how those children were going to receive the services they desperately needed. It also didn’t include how the district was going to protect the valuable instructional time of kids who didn’t have behavioral issues. Nor did it outline how we were going to ensure the safety of teachers and students.

In short, MNPS has created a policy that doesn’t promise to get kids required services to those kids that need them and puts other students and teachers at risk. It is a policy that in it’s current form, hurts kids. There is a saying, “Hell is full of good meanings, but heaven is full of good works” that certainly applies here.

When pushed on the policies shortcomings, district leaders response is almost universal; we are having high-level conversations around those very concerns and there is a financial component that still needs to come into play. A financial component whose delivery is far from assured. Enacting this policy is akin to jumping out of an airplane without checking to make sure your parachute is packed correctly. You hope that it’ll open right, but if it doesn’t…it’s a long way down.

When further pressed for a reason why the need to implement a new discipline policy now, district leaders cite a need for expediency. In looking at the data provided in the 2018 Report Card, that call for expediency is not supported.

First and foremost, I believe if you are going to make a call for action then you should offer data that supports that call for action. The suspension data chart supplied by the report card does not segregate out the number of K-4 suspensions. It also doesn’t clarify that the number of suspensions does not equal the number of kids suspended. Multiple suspensions could be attached to one student. While the number of suspensions is important, I would argue that the number of students impacted should take precedent.

Let’s look at the data supplied in the report card. It shows that in 2013-2014 the number of suspensions was 10,837. That number steadily culminating in 2017-2018 where the number of suspensions falls to 8823.

For Black students, it went from 7397 in 13/14 to 5882 in 17/18. A couple of things in this data call out for closer inspection. First, there was a drop in suspensions for Black students between 15/16 and 16/17 by 1163 suspensions. That’s a pretty significant number that would evoke my curiosity as to why. Was it a culture change? A policy change? Is it replicable?

The second thing that catches my eye is that suspensions rose overall by 367 incidents between 16/17 and 17/18, but the difference for black students was only 6 incidents. Once again a number that would seem to signify a trend in the right direction. In looking at all the data, the district appears to be trending in the right direction and there is nothing that indicates a need to rush to create policy before supports are fully in place.

Now if we look at the data for Hispanic students, there is a need to be concerned. The number of suspensions for Hispanic students grew from 1354 in 13/14 to 1420 in 17/18. That’s not trending in the right direction.

I now want to draw your attention to the demographic chart included in the report card. It shows that in 14/15 black students made up 44.4% of the district’s population. In 18/19  that number has fallen to 41.6%. Meanwhile, the Hispanic percentage of students which was 20.1% in 14/15 has risen to 25.9%. Yet, for the most part, Hispanics are being left out of the conversation. Something that needs to be immediately corrected.

For further evidence of this exclusion, we can look at the districts KPI’s. At the beginning of the year, MNPS created a key performance indicator that focused on the suspension of black students. My question would be why create a KPI focused on a declining population that is trending in the right direction versus an increasing population trending in the wrong direction? Under this KPI a director could be perceived as successful if black student suspension rates diminished even while Hispanic rates grew. It sends a message that our Hispanic students are not as important, and that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

Drop down a couple of lines on the demographic chart and you’ll see my biggest cause for concern, % Economically Disadvantaged. That number has grown from 30.9% in 14/15 to the current rate of 47.9%. Knowing what we know about the impact of poverty on kids, a growth of that magnitude should be a source of alarm for all of us. Instead of talking about the cool new places to eat in town, the mayor should be talking about the families Nashville is leaving behind and how we are going to address that issue.

Kids who live in poverty experience a high level of trauma. There is no shortage of information on how poverty creates trauma in kids, and how that trauma affects behavior. I would argue that a trauma specialist in every school coupled with a pledge towards continued working towards a reduction in suspensions would be more effective than a policy that effectively bans suspensions. Implied bias is certainly important, but the numbers presented by the chamber call out for a focus on poverty.

The creating of a trauma specialist in every school more closely aligns with the recommendations from the teacher cabinet that Dr. Joseph created. Recommendations that were disregarded in the crafting of district policy. Some would argue differently, but to me this a sign of politics entering the conversation. In fact, the whole policy smacks more of building a political base then helping kids to me. Sorry if this offends, but I’m just calling it as I see it.

I’m aware that these numbers don’t tell the complete story, but they are the numbers we are given in support of the story being sold. And as such, cry out for deeper examination.

One further note, in discussing the district’s current policy of not suspending students K-4 without approval from a community superintendent, it was brought to my attention that we were debating the policy on a purely academic level. What if the reality was that Community Supes caved, which is within the realm of possibility, and just approved very recommendation? In that case, nothing is changed but the blame.

At the end of the day, I believe that the goal to reduce suspensions is a worthy one, but only if we do so in a manner that doesn’t put other students and teachers at risk. Only if we have taken the time to ensure that kids are receiving the supports they need. Keeping kids in school just to warehouse them isn’t serving anyone’s best interests. Just the opposite, it’s hurting kids.

THE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE TAO OF THE CHAIR

The report card committee afforded board chair, Dr. Gentry, an opportunity to address the community. Dr. Gentry used that opportunity to toss shade at fellow board members with whom she has found herself at odds.

She opens her remarks by stating that she would never, ever, publicly criticize a fellow board member and then proceeded to do so. Even the most casual of school board observers are well aware of which board members Gentry is speaking about when offering that pseudo-pledge so she might as well had called them out by name. Some are uncomfortable with my personal criticisms of Dr. Gentry. I would answer that by saying that she continually tries to frame the conversation in a dishonest manner and because her position carries with it a degree of authenticity, the dishonesty has to be challenged.

Remember the very first vote after Gentry was elected was on a contract involving Arbinger. A company that Gentry works for. She fully intended to vote on that contract, a clear conflict of interest, until other board members called her on it. Hence the need to stay constantly vigilant.

Back to Tuesday’s event, Gentry proceeded to try to paint herself as being deeply self-reflective and with a never sated intellectual curiosity. These character traits had led her to readings that illuminated the ways in which leaders lose their way. How they become vengeful and search for retribution and as a result lose their sense of purpose.

It was clear that she was trying to paint her political opponents as being driven by self-serving interests, while she continually tries to retain focus on protecting the interests of the children and families of MNPS. It’s a narrative that fails to hold up to any kind of closer scrutiny. It just doesn’t pass the stress test.

Gentry, with Pinkston by her side, has one agenda, keep Dr. Joseph in a position of power and to ultimately preserve their position of power. That’s why they conspired together to ensure her election as chair and that’s why they continue to remain in lockstep over policy. They do so despite the fact that Dr. Joseph and his team continually fail to move the needle academically and enact policy – scripted curriculum, discipline, lack of support for teachers – that is bad for kids. Most often the kids being hurt are the very ones we swear to protect.

I appreciate calls for civility. At Tuesday’s event, Mayor Briley made a comment that fighting was fine, but once we fought, we all should get in line and move in the same direction. Good advice.  Right now there is a fight between whether Dr. Joseph should get a contract renewal or whether he should be allowed to move on at the end of his contract. In the spirit of the Mayor’s words, I’m all for getting in line and allowing him to move on while we begin the search for a competent director that will practice what they preach. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the type of getting in line that the mayor and Madame Chairwoman are envisioning.

PARTING THOUGHT

Maybe it’s just me, but can we please stop using comparisons to other districts across the country as yardsticks to performance? I as a parent am primarily concerned that we are serving my child to the best of our ability. It does not matter to me if our benchmarks are higher than other districts in the nation if we are not best serving our kids. Here in Nashville, our priorities may be a little different from those in Kansas City. Or Seattle. Or Newark.

Do you ever hear a parent say, “I’m trying to be the fastest improving mother in America”? Or, “I’m a better father than Joe in San Diego”? Or do you hear them say, “I’m just trying to be the best that I can be for my kids every day”?

If that mantra is good enough for parents why is it not good enough for the school district? I suspect it’s because we only have one real goal. It’s not to be the future Chief Father for New Jersey. It’s not to have MotherWeek write an article about the groundbreaking work we are doing in the field of parenting. It’s not so we can go to the annual conference of Parenting Forward and bask in the accolades of our peers. There is no Council of Great City Parents ranking us on our work. It’s just us striving every day to do better by our kids. The focus always remains on our kids.

I could care a less if we are the fastest rising district in the country, as long as we are working harder every day to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our children, Nashville’s children. Just a thought.

Once again thank you to those on the report card committee for their hard work. I sincerely mean that. I know how much hard work and self-sacrifice it takes and I truly appreciate your efforts. Though I will continue to push you to make your reports less agenda driven.

Speaking of report cards…MNPS just announced that in order to allow teachers more time to grade and prepare after winter break, they are delaying the distribution of report cards from January 9th to January 16th. That’s twice this year that the district has proven incapable of following its own timeline on issuing reports to parents.

Friday we’ll talk about leadership theories and why culture change from the middle is impossible, as well as newly released Tennessee State Comptrollers audit on TN Ready. Till then, just remember only 2 more days until Winter Break.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

WITH THE INTERNET, ITS ALL AT YOUR FINGER TIPS.

“If there is any human tragedy, there is only one, and it occurs when we forget who we are and remain silent while a stranger takes up residence inside our skin.”
James Lee Burke, The Glass Rainbow

“…’I’ve never told you this, but when you were in your teens one of your teachers called us. He said you’d been fighting in the playground again. With two of the boys from the grade above, but this time it hadn’t turned out so well–they’d had to send you to the hospital to have your lip sewn and a tooth taken out. I stopped your allowance, remember? Anyway, Øystein told me about the fight later. You flew at them because they’d filled Tresko’s knapsack with water from the school fountain. If I remember correctly, you didn’t even like Tresko much. Øystein said the reason you’d been hurt so badly was that you didn’t give in. You got up time after time and in the end you were bleeding so much that the big boys became alarmed and went on their way.’
Olav Hole laughed quietly. ‘I didn’t think I could tell you that at the time–it would only have been asking for more fights–but I was so proud I could have wept. You were brave, Harry. You were scared of the dark, but that didn’t stop you going there.’…”
Jo Nesbø, Panserhjerte

 

The beautiful thing about the internet is that it brings forth resources that illuminate the past. Over the weekend I spent time at TnTel.info researching Core Knowledge Curriculum and its history in MNPS. It was fascinating reading and leaves me wondering why the district would engage in a study that has already been conducted in Nashville?

Initially, I was under the impression that CKLA was just one of may curriculums that have been implemented over the years. After reading all the archives it is clear to me that it was so much more and it came with quite a few political ramifications.

As I’ve previously stated, the curriculum was brought to MNPS through the urging of then-Mayor Phil Bredesen. Bredesen wanted to give schools more money but wanted evidence that they were producing results. His opinion was that Core Knowledge would be the pathway to those results. Not everybody agreed though, including the Dean at Peabody College. Teachers were also not big fans. After a bit of a fight, Bredesen ended up getting what he wanted.

The actual curriculum was written by a core group of MNPS teachers based on E.D. Hersch’s theories.  Again I wonder how much of that writing has been incorporated into the current product. Metro’s curriculum was intended to dictate exactly what teachers were going to teach every day of every semester, uniformly through every grade. The impact and success of Core Knowledge continued to be debated over the next several years. The primary complaints were that there was too much information to cover and everybody hated the timers that were utilized throughout the lessons. Imagine trying to teach with a kitchen timer clicking in the back to ensure you didn’t get off track.

Some teachers who were previously opposed, warmed to the curriculum with time. They appreciated the exposure children received to previously untouched subjects. It helped that within the first two months changes were approved that addressed the challenges that teachers were facing around grade appropriateness and pacing.

After 3 years, teachers began to give the curriculum a tepid thumbs up. The pacing still concerned many and core knowledge was shown to be not very effective with EL students and special ed students. Unfortunately for proponents, later that year, MNPS hired a new director of schools, Pedro Garcia, who’s chief academic officer quickly pointed out that core kowledge wasn’t aligned with standards and that the district’s curriculum was too confusing and needed to be re-organized. The Core Knowledge experiment was over.

In 2002, Bredesen ran for Governor and was forced to defend the adoption of core knowledge curriculum. In the end the results ended up being mixed. Scores went up a bit, but there was no way to credit those results exclusively to core knowledge. Some parents loved the curriculum, and some didn’t. Same goes for teachers. I suspect the results from the just begun FSU study will produce very similar results. So the question becomes, why choose to conduct a study, without acknowledging the history of the subject in the district, when so much information and data has already been produced?

I have a couple of theories. The first involves Bredesen lap dog and Common Core supporter Will Pinkston. Pinkston has reportedly been telling people that he is the one actually pulling the strings when it comes to Metro Schools. If that is the case, perhaps the reintroduction of CK is a means to clear up a tarnished portion of his bosses legacy. That’s fine, but if that is the case, why not just simply re-introduce the curriculum instead of hiding behind a study. Though it should be noted that the study is paying for materials, so this could be a means to implementation without a budgetary impact. Everybody loves a chance to go back and try to get things right. I have no problem envisioning Pinkston and Bredesen sitting around the fireplace, drinking scotches, smoking cigars, with a couple of dogs at their feet, celebrating the return of a championed agenda.

My second theory involves curriculum creator E.D. Hersch’s proclamation of core knowledge as a social justice issue. Joseph and his team often envision themselves as social justice warriors and as such this curriculum would be right in their wheelhouse. Per usual though, they didn’t do their homework. They never took the time to research past MNPS implementations and where things went right or wrong.Factor in  that most of the people with institutional knowledge have left the district and odds are, Joseph and team are probably learning the history of CKLA in Nashville the same way most people are, through Dad Gone Wild blog posts.

I understand that schools need to address social justice issues, but I would argue basic education comes first. I’ll take care of the social justice issues at home. This situation is not unlike the new discipline policy, where the district addressed social issues before addressing basic behavioral issues. A body of work by Joseph continues to develop that leaves the community to raise the question of exactly what kind of leader does Nashville want to lead its school system? Do we want an educator or a social justice warrior? Are we educating children or waking them? Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

Still no word on who Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee plans to pick to lead the state’s education department. The latest name to rise to the top is Jamie Woodson. Speculation has been fuel by her recent announcement that she will leave her job as CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, to become the group’s senior adviser. Woodson downplays her candidacy for state superintendent. In her words, as quoted by Chalkbeat,

“My goal right now,” Woodson said, “is to make sure that the next governor and the next commissioner get off to a great start and continue the momentum that’s been created by partners all across Tennessee and the nation to help Tennessee students achieve their full promise and potential.”

Tomorrow is the annual unveiling of the Chamber of Commerce’s Education Committee’s Report Card on Schools. Every year the committee unveils its report in a lavish ceremony and every year most people forget what is in the report by the first of the year. Will this time be any different? I’m hoping so because I have a great deal of respect for the folks that make up the committee. Unfortunately, much of the data they use to arrive at their recommendations is supplied by MNPS itself, which despite Dr. Joseph’s protestations, has a history of being…distorted. This year the committee has chosen to focus on SEL issues. I look forward to hearing what they have to report. The report card will be released on Tuesday, December 18th at the downtown library from 10:00-11:30.

In a sign of a major political shift in Prince George’s County, the outspoken leader of a minority bloc on the Board of Education was chosen Thursday night as vice chairman. Edward J Burroughs III who at age 26 is the board’s longest-serving rep, was elected as vice-chair by his colleagues. Burroughs was previously part of a minority bloc that drew attention to inflated graduation rates, large pay raises to executive staff and a nearly $800,000 contract payout to outgoing CEO Kevin M. Maxwell. Now, Burroughs takes a leadership role beside Alvin Thornton, 70, a longtime college professor and education expert recently named board chairman by County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D). Alsobrooks had said that she would let the board select its own vice chairman.

Any word on that HR evaluation that Bone, McAllester, Norton PLLC was doing? I thought it was supposed to be complete by the end of November but now it’s almost Christmas and no word. Maybe it’ll come out at the same time as the Tennessee State School board’s review of district discipline reporting practices.

I’m thinking the investigations can’t wrap up soon enough because today another shoe dropped in the ongoing sexual harassment cases against MNPS under Shawn Joseph’s leadership. Former HR investigator Scott Lindsey filed his lawsuit today after he was forced out over the results of an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by longtime Joseph associate Mo Carrasco. According to Lindsey number, HR executive Sharon Pertiller told him there where certain expectations and if he didn’t meet them he could expect repercussions. Per Lindsey’s attorney Gary Blackburn,

“She told Mr. Lindsay that the director of schools, Mr. Joseph, was aware of this and that he expected it to ‘turn out right’ and there would be difficulties for him if it didn’t turn out right,”

I suspect this one is far from over and like my parents told me, “Be careful the company you keep.” Rumor has it Carrasco is currently enjoying the tropical climate of the Dominican Republic. No word if that is a holiday visit or permanent.

McKissack Middle School was awarded a portion of Tennessee’s 8.25 million Title I Grant for school improvement. The grant awarded was $275,000 per year for the next three years to help improve Literacy, Numeracy, Social Emotional Learning, and Leadership. The total grant is worth $825,000 for McKissack. Way to go guys!

Robert Churchwell Elementary School received the “We Shall Overcome Exhibit” on loan from the Frist Museum. At the grand opening of the exhibit, panelists included some of the original Civil Rights activist; Mr. Errol Groves, Ms. Gloria McKissick, Mr. Kramer Lillard, and Ms. Lajuanda Street Harley. The plan is to share this exhibit with other schools after the Holiday Break.

Warner Arts Magnet Elementary School scholars have started a new musical unit learning all about Chinese drumming. The scholars at Warner are being instructed by a guest teacher Ms. Jen Lin who is a renowned master for contemporary dance and Chinese drumming. This musical unit will extend to the classroom as students will explore ancient Chinese cultures with a culminating task of writing an essay about cultural customs.

Overton High School will host a group of district and school leaders from Knoxville for a Cambridge study visit. Results of Overton’s fall ACT show a 3% year over year increase in the number of students earning a 21 or higher and a 4% increase in the number of students who earned above a score of 30. Excellent news.

Here’s a snippet from this week’s SNL that I’m sure many of you parents can relate to.

POLL RESULTS

As we do every Monday, we now review the results of this weekends poll questions.

At last weeks board meeting, Dr. Joseph swore that MNPS never fudges, fakes, or makes up data. I must admit that statement made me laugh out loud, but I thought I’d get your opinion. Results paint a picture that doesn’t align with Dr. Joseph’s statement. Sixty-four percent of you said the district does it on a regular basis. Thirteen percent of you asked if that was really a question. What that translates to, is that three-quarters of you do not trust the data presented by the district. I’d say that’s a problem.

Not one single person indicated that they feel the district is completely transparent. You can’t call yourself transparent if nobody believes that you are transparent. At some point Dr. Joseph and his team are going to have to own the fact that they haven’t built any trust and address the problem. Perhaps this could be a job for the new chief of staff Marcy Singer-Gabella. Though she should proceed with caution as that was what the previous chief of staff Jana Carlisle was working on before she got shown the door. Here are the write-in votes,

They get data to tell their narrative and I’m NOT okay with that. 1
They have the disease of selective hearing and Changas is complicit 1
They do it to fit the narrative, and I’m not OK with that. 1
Every.Day.All.The.Time. 1
Data, educator license, compensation and sorts of facts amd figures 1
The don’t share all the data. That’s a problem. 1
Its the Nashville Way 1
They write the narrative, then collect the data to support it. 1
I think they get it to tell their narrative 1
That’s what SJ and Sito do. Sit in meetings and spin data to justify salary 1
Yes. To justify ridiculous salaries at the top. It’s obvious how it’s spun. 1
Absolutely

Question 2 asked if you were offended by Amy Frogge calling the CKLA presentation a “dog and Pony” show. The number one answer with 53% of the vote was that you were glad someone was finally telling the truth. 18% of you were more concerned about the disrespect that takes place outside of the boardroom. Only 4% of you found it extremely disturbing.

The write-in votes tell the rest of the story,

It’s hard to strike the right tone when Gentry isn’t running meetings right 1
More concerned about teacher vacancies doubling since August #facts 1
As a teacher, it feels like Amy is the only one listening. 1
Not at all 1
It was not the right time for the comment 1
Not at all, CKLA SUCKS 1
She was right 1
Nail meet head just poorly expressed 1
Amy deals in hyperbole. Overreact, stir the pot, rinse and repeat. 1
she saw right through the district- find people to tell positive things about it 1
Why have most of Phil Williams stories been taken down off Newschannel5? 1
People missed her point, she wants truth not a show 1
She said exactlyHow the teachers doing it feel. 1
More insulted by my teachers salary. 1
We know Any Frogge is a champion for teachers!!! 1
complains but gets nothing done. Teachers need action. Not words.

The last question asked how you felt about the return of CKLA. The number one answer with 32% of the vote was “why do I care? It’ll be gone in two years.” Coming up second was at 27% was “absolutely against the CKLA curriculum”. One person was very excited about the curriculums return. I want to take this moment to once again thank Dr. Felder for her patronage.

One of the write-in comments deserves individual attention, “Rather than try to unify what good work is happening they’d rather reinvent the wheel”. I really wish that was what we were doing as a district, finding out the successes and expanding on them. But alas, that’s just a pipe dream. Here are the rest of the write-ins,

I know nothing about it. I just hope for good results 1
Rather than try to unify what good work is happening theyd rather reinvent wheel 1
Sham 1
Hard for teachers, awful for kids. 1
Anything is better than our current scope & sequen 1
There are pro/con with this …should be well understood before leaping 1
MNPS is a cess pool run by incompetent board and admin 1
I’m excited to hear the spin on why we won’t get/deserve a raise f

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. I ain’t going to lie, we could use the support. Thanks and peace out.

Posted in Uncategorized

FUDGE, FAKE, OR MAKE UP DATA

“Asked about the board’s level of talent, Bredesen says the school board is no more a collection of education experts than the Metro Council is a chamber full of scholars on Metro Government. That may or may not be a healthy state of affairs; it all depends upon whom you ask.” Liz Garrigan quoting Mayor Phil Bredesen, Nashville Scene May 20th, 1997

“I think it’s fair to say that, as of today, we have had no conversation on changing standards, curriculum, or anything else,” he says. “I’m not alarmed by that because it’s still early in the process. But if it continues like this, it will not be successful.” Harry McMackin, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association speaking on Common Knowledge Curriculum, Nashville Scene, SEP 13, 2001

I think sometimes it’s important to take a moment, or two, and collect your thoughts before commenting on events. Taking a moment to breathe, and reflect, allows one to develop a perspective that is divorced from the emotional baggage of the moment. Some things that seem crystal clear at first, can be viewed differently after review and conversation.

So while the Tennessean and Fox News raced off to offer their perspective, I pulled back a bit. I dug into the subject and looked at the history of MNPS and the school board. As a PSA, let me offer that the Nashville Scene has a tremendous archive in case you want to familiarize yourself with the history of the district. At this time, I’d like to share some of the conclusions that I’ve come to, based on my research and conversations.

First and foremost, I’m just amazed at our collective lack of historical knowledge. There ain’t one thing happening today, that’s new. We’ve been down every single one of these roads over the past 25 years, yet we wander around making proclamations like we are bridesmaids on pedal taverns just in town to have a good time.

If you are a board member and you uncomfortable with confrontation, that’s on you for not doing your homework. Being a board member is a contact sport. Always has been, always will be. It’s not a job for the meek.

There has never been a time in this city where the school board has not been confrontational and viewed as dysfunctional. There is a good reason for that, it’s an extremely important job that produces extremely important outcomes with no clear path of how to produce results and lots of ways not to. It is also a governing body that hasn’t always acted in the best interests of stakeholders. So if anyone who thought that they were going to get on this board and just attend choral recitals and spread cheer, you were being naive at best.

Working in our schools is hard, hard, work. Teacher’s fight tooth and nail every day for their students. They have to because sometimes nobody else will. Why would somebody think that as a board member you wouldn’t have to fight just as hard and be just as tough? Education ain’t a job for the thin-skinned, the consequences are too important to worry about bruised egos.

You want to see toughness on display? Watch how new board member Fran Bush verbally punches fellow board member Will Pinkston in the mouth when he continually refuses to extend professional courtesy to Amy Frogge while pushing a memorandum on placing a portion the Hope Garden property on the surplus property list (around 1:49). His actions were clearly intended as a vehicle to punish Frogge for her missing a retreat and a meeting. I suspect, it was also due to her not following his lead in supporting the director at all costs as well. It was petty, it was vindictive, it was all the things that Pinkston has shown himself to be. The difference was that this time Frogge didn’t just have Speering by her side, she had newly elected Fran Bush and Bush wasn’t having any of it.

In a tone that dripped with honey, Bush laid into Pinkston, letting him know that retreats were not mandatory, that family came first, and if you are going to talk professional courtesy and respect…you need to walk it. Her delivery had me rubbing my jaw, and I was sitting on the other side of the video screen.

Pinkston’s only retort was, “Is there a use for this property that I am unaware of?”

We weren’t discussing uses of the property Will, we were talking respect of fellow board members. A subject you seem to know little about, but Bush seems willing to help you understand it.

Pinkston’s memorandum failed and Hope Gardens was excluded from the list. That’s got to put a dent in the narrative that he’s been telling associates about him being the one running the district. First Bredesen, now this, this losing thing is starting to become a habit.

I suspect that Pinkston has now placed a target on Bush’s back. Hopefully Bush is aware of Pinkston’s propensity to use surrogates to do his dirty work. He probably won’t come at her directly and I wouldn’t be shocked if he used another board member to exact his revenge.

Now to the second part of the story. There seems to be a narrative being spread about. In this narrative board member Amy Frogge disrespected the teachers giving the presentation on Common Knowledge Language Arts by referring to it as a “dog and pony show”. First of all, Frogge repeatedly stated that she wasn’t intending to be disrespectful to the teachers and secondly, Frogge has been nothing but a champion for teachers over the last 6 years and I’m pretty sure teachers are aware of that.

Christiane Buggs comments to the teachers after they spoke was to say that they looked angry and that some looked they were going to cry. I take some exception to that comment. Over the past several years I’ve interacted with quite a few of our elementary school teachers and let me tell you, they are pretty damn tough. The extra hours that those presenting put into the PowerPoint that was shown is but a drop in the bucket of the extra hours that they put in daily. To do what they do, year after year after year requires the developing of a pretty thick skin. So to insinuate that they are so fragile that an offhand remark by a board member is going to put them in a state of fury or despair, I would argue is kinda insulting.

It’s like a man feeling like he has to the rush of the aid of a woman who is incapable of defending her honor. Pretty sure every one of those teachers was capable of expressing their displeasure and defending themselves if required. The rending of the garments is more about the defenders need to feel good, then it is about protecting anyone.

I’m sure that some of the presenters took exception to Frogge’s remark, but I liken it to when I’m discussing things with my good friend Jason Egly whom I often disagree with. In the course of our discussion not infrequently do we say things to each other that makes the other go, “Whoa, what the hell was that.” But then we give ground and like adults talk it through and as evidenced by watching the board meeting, that is exactly what happened at the board meeting. The difference is that we have established trust between us, in MNPS there is no trust.

If the taking offense is truly in defense of teachers, why are they so quick to rend their garments over some remarks directed at 10 teachers at a board meeting, yet bat nary an eye when 6k teachers across the district are treated with disrespect every day. Let me say that again, across the district, day in and day out, teachers feel disrespected. The fact that you don’t know that is a testimony to their strength and to people not listening, but those days are winding down. As demonstrated by the teachers at Tuesday’s board meeting, teachers are starting to speak out. This week it was 15, let’s see how many there are next month, and the month after if things don’t change.

When you choose to invest in programs over people, you disrespect teachers. When you hold teacher councils and ask for their recommendations on discipline policy, then turn around and enact policy that ignores their recommendations…you disrespect them. When you continually refuse to answer emails and ignore phone calls that cry out for help…you disrespect them. When you ignore the advanced degrees they’ve earned and instead force them to use canned curriculum…you disrespect them. When you talk about them as a bloodthirsty crowd and talk about your income in front of their principals…you disrespect them.

(Recording of speech at recent principals meeting)

 

These things and more happen on a daily basis and yet not a single tear get’s shed. Not a single shout of outrage comes from the boardThat’s the bigger story to me. Until we stop worrying about respecting teachers in the board room and stop disrespecting them in the classroom, things are never going to get better.

Dr. Joseph continues to suffer under the illusion that teachers know he supports them despite the mounting evidence that counters that belief. He praises the gains made by the schools citing data that, despite his claims, is fudged, faked, or made up.

That’s not a criticism of the work teachers are doing, but rather an indictment against how district leadership missappropriates their hard work. There are great stories and exemplary working taking place, but it is only due to the self-sacrifice and hard work that teachers are doing. That’s what I shed tears over, the miracles that could be happening if only we had leadership that knew how to lead. The miracles that would happen if leadership knew how to foster trust.

On a national level, we seem to have become a nation addicted to taking offense. Taking offense is a choice. We can either choose to take offense or we can work on solving the problem. Myself, I’m over being in a constant state of offense. I want to focus on solutions. But without a change in leadership, that can’t happen. If that offends you…well…you’ve made your choice.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF CKLA

Looking at the CKLA presentation, there were a number of things missing from that presentation. The first is a historical context. Yep, we’ve played with Core Knowledge creator E.L Hirsch before. Hop with me into the way back machine.

Back in 1997, then-Mayor Phil Bredesen didn’t care too much for the school board. The relationship was so bad that the Nashville Scene felt compelled to write,

Given the ongoing antagonism between the mayor and the school board, it would be advisable for them to begin to settle their differences. After all, the fractious nature of the relationship between the mayor and the nine members of the school board may not just be a result of what’s going on—or not going on—in Metro schools. It may be a cause of the problem as well.

I know you are shocked. You thought that this board was the most dysfunctional of all time. Sorry to break your bubble. But I digress, When it came to education policy, Bredesen figured he knew better than those sitting on the board and insisted that the curriculum Core Knowledge being implemented. Then-Superintendent of Schools Dr. Benjamin was not keen on the idea and some believe his refusal to implement the curriculum was part of the reason he resigned. Interim Superintendent Bill Wise implemented Core Knowledge in exchange for Bredesen increasing the district’s funding in order to include an art and music teacher in every building.

Fast forward to 2001 and the glitter had faded. Social studies scores had increased but everything else was tanking. Bill Wise was retiring and new director of schools Pedro Garcia was not enamored with Core Knowledge.

The reason for such turbulence is that Garcia and Johnson want to develop entirely new standards that are both “clear and rigorous.” More importantly, they say that they want the new standards “to ensure student success in the 21st century.” While Johnson would not comment specifically on Metro’s curriculum as it now stands, she did say that most districts often fail to make it clear what they expect students to learn and when they expect them to learn it. She also said that most districts don’t prepare their students to work in a marketplace where critical thinking skills are required in nearly all jobs.

It would have been nice, as part of this week’s presentation, to hear how Dr. Felder and her team plan to correct issues that occurred in the past. The Nashville Scene illustrates some of those issues,

Besides, few teachers agree on how they are supposed to teach core, according to Harry McMackin, president of the Metro Nashville Education Association, the local teachers’ union. That alone might be reason to reevaluate the program. “Teachers have differing philosophies. The major concept of core curriculum is to expose kids to basic historical facts and a core set of principles from the full-range of western civilization. Yet this exposure is not in-depth because they could never have the time to do in-depth work,” he says. “That leads to confusion—do we teach to in-depth understanding and mastery or do we teach to mastery? Teachers have differing ideas on this.”

As near I can tell, those problems still exist.

Much of Tuesday’s presentation centered around the proposed Florida State study. What wasn’t made clear was exactly what kids would be included in the study? In looking at the PowerPoint presentation it appeared as if the control group was going to morph into a second treatment group. Well according to Chief Investigator Dr. Sonia Cabell,

We randomly selected approximately 30 children per school from whom we had voluntary parental consent across all kindergarten classrooms. In some schools, the total number was fewer. Across all 24 schools, we have 651 children participating, 333 in the treatment schools and 318 in control schools. We will follow these children as they move to first and second grades. From these 24 schools we will not add additional students from next year’s kindergarten classes.

In other words, just the first cohort is part of the study. All of those grades getting Core Knowledge in the upcoming years, are part of the implementation and not study of CKLA. It appears that Dr. Joseph and his team are using the cover of the study to implement a new curriculum in 24 schools.  Those schools will utilize the Core Knowledge curriculum even though only the first group will be in the study. To me that reeks of dishonesty.

It also concerns me that all of these schools are in the NE and NW quadrant. In other words, starting next year, and going forward, kids on the north side will be taught with a different curriculum than kids on the south side. And I don’t need to tell you the demographics of those two areas. How does the principle of equity apply here? How will the difference in curriculum impact teacher retention and recruitment? Those questions, along with an explanation of how results will be different this go around, remain unanswered.

There was also little comment around how this FSU study would align with the states new, fraught with problems, portfolio evaluation system. News flash! it doesn’t. Remember earlier when we talked about disrespecting teachers? Yea…ignoring potential damage to their professional reputation would fall into that category.

One last side note. The last time Core Knowledge was utilized in the district, teachers wrote the curriculum based on Hirsch’s direction. It was a huge undertaking. I have to wonder how much our own work is being brought back and eventually sold to us? That’s another question that needs answering.

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to Joya Burrell, a senior at Nashville Big Picture High School, who was accepted into the National Society of High School Scholars. She participated in the induction ceremony held Dec. 1 in Atlanta as part of the 2018 Scholars Day. Burrell was the only MNPS student to receive this academic achievement. way to go!

Congratulations to MNPS Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson who was selected as the recipient of the Bill Wise Award from the Council of the Great City Schools. The award is presented to someone who exemplifies professionalism, commitment, integrity, and leadership.

You might have heard that longtime Director Renata Soto is stepping down from her position at Conexion. As a result of her leaving there has been some speculation on what that means for school board member Gini Pupo-Walker. Walker should be considered a leading candidate to replace Soto, but how would that impact her role on the school board? Bears watching.

Memphis has themselves a new interim superintendent in a long time Memphis educator Joris Ray. It seems that more and more urban school districts are looking inward to find leaders. An emphasis has been placed upon people who have come up through this system and know both the culture, history and the players. Seems kind of wise to me.

Rumors are swirling that middle school and high school principals will be getting a Christmas present upon their return from break. They will be included in the district’s recently declared elementary school policy of not suspending, expelling, or arresting students without community superintendent permission.. Needless to say, principals are equating this with a lump of coal and therefore have grave concerns. Let’s see if rumors are true.

I’d like to close with a blog post by Wayne Gersen over at Network Schools. In his post, he points out that teaching isn’t the same job he took 30 years ago.

Teaching is much harder now than ever, and yet we continue to celebrate billionaires who fund charter schools and lionize tyrants like Michelle Rhee who promise to sweep “dead wood” out of schools…. and we then wonder why it is increasingly difficult to find college graduates who want to enter teaching.

I urge you to read the whole piece, it’s short, and then do more than shed tears.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions. If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

WE HAVE TO DO BETTER

“Anybody can be unhappy. We can all be hurt. You don’t have to be poor to need something or somebody. Rednecks, hippies, misfits – we’re all the same. Gay or straight? So what? It doesn’t matter to me. We have to be concerned about other people, regardless.”
Willie Nelson

“Oprah, for instance, still can’t get past the n-word issue (or the nigga issue, with all apologies to Ms. Winfrey). I can respect her position. To her, it’s a matter of acknowledging the deep and painful history of the word. To me, it’s just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. “Nigga” becomes “porch monkey” becomes “coon” and so on if that’s what in a person’s heart. The key is to change the person. And we change people through conversation, not through censorship.”
Jay-Z, Decoded

Last week I received a text from my wife, “Student who went to school here last year committed suicide yesterday.”

Within those 11 words, a world of pain was released.

Suicide is always painful for those left behind, but when it is a child, it becomes particularly tragic. Those left behind find themselves playing scenes of interactions over in their head, trying to find the clues that could have altered the outcome. Unfortunately, those clues can be found everywhere and nowhere. Depression is a chemical process inside a person that goes past the realm of sadness and deeper to the core. Loved ones can see all of the signs and still not be able to change the outcome. At the same time, they can miss all the signs because the person suffering wears their mask a little tighter and in the end, do any of us really know what goes on inside of others?

I didn’t know Jaden Bynum. Nor did my wife, as this is her first year at HG Hill. By all accounts, he was a wonderful young man full of promise. Promise that has now tragically been extinguished. There are no words that will adequately comfort his family and those who love him. But there are actions that can bring some meaning to a life that ended way too soon.

We can start by making sure that our children receive the services they need. There should be a trauma specialist in every school. We need to realize the importance of forming strong relationships, ones that extend beyond the strong bonds of parent and child. Every success has at its core, strong relationships. None of us can do this alone. In order to foster those relationships, we can focus on nurturing versus demanding.

We talk about the importance of social-emotional learning for students, but we spend precious little time developing those behaviors among adults.

My heart goes out to the family of Jaden Bynum and I pray that at some point they are able to find some peace. I pray for all the children, and adults, that are hurting, to whatever degree. I pray they find the courage, the strength, the weakness, or the combination of all three, to share how they are feeling. Depression is not a determiner of who we are as people. I pray that all of us have the capacity to recognize the pain of those around us and we take the time to actually hear them. I pray that we all choose to love each other just a little harder.

STUDENTS AS GUINEA PIGS

On the agenda for today’s MNPS School Board Meeting is a presentation on Metro School’s participation in a study by Florida State University involving the curriculum CKLA. CKLA stands for Core Knowledge Language Arts. It is a curriculum developed by E.D. Hirsch Jr. Hirsch did not have a hand in developing the Common Core Standards but it is easy to see the connection between the two. If you take a look at studies, you’ll see that its results are mixed.

I don’t doubt that a strong argument for its implementation can be built, or that one equally strong against its implementation is unfeasible. My questions though are around its implementation and usage in MNPS. The district’s participation in this study was outlined over the summer in one of Dr. Joseph’s weekly memos. Shawn Joseph Weekly Memo 07.27.18-ilovepdf-compressed

In that memo, is an explanation of the study, an FAQ, and a list of schools who are participating. I urge you to read it for yourselves. There are several questions that I hope get asked tonight.

  • How can you have a control when that group is implementing the subject being tested, just on a different timeline? I would argue that creates 2 treatment groups.
  • Why are all of the participating schools in the NE and NW quadrants? Many of the schools participating are on the States’s Priority School list? Don’t they deserve proven solutions as opposed to participating in a study?
  • There has been a lot of talk about the implications for children who grow up in book deserts. How does a program that focuses on read-a-loud combat those effects?
  • Last year the state rolled out a new portfolio system as an evaluation system for kindergarten teachers. To say it was a disaster gives disasters a bad name. Now we are going to force Kindergarten teachers to participate in a study at the same time that they try to navigate a flawed evaluation system. How is the district going to safeguard against having a negative impact upon these teacher’s professional record? I know there is a paragraph in the FAQ but let’s be honest, that’s all hypothetical and you are asking teachers to take a big leap of faith at a time where nothing has been done to build that faith.
  • Have all the parent waivers been turned in and what accommodations have been made for parents who don’t want their kids participating?
  • I’ve heard talk that teachers in the chosen schools who don’t want to participate in the study are being strong-armed into participation. If those teachers leave, what impact will this study have on hiring replacement teachers? I can’t help but wonder if TNTP is standing by waiting to supplement teachers if needed. Afterall, we approved a contract earlier this yeart for nearly half a million to TNTP in order to help implement CKLA.

Those are just a few of my questions. My biggest one though, is why bring this to the board now? The project is already far enough along, that board questions and concerns will have limited impact, so why bother presenting? Nothing quite conveys we don’t give 2 fucks – sorry for the language, but it’s the only word that fits – about your opinion like asking for it after the fact. Let’s be honest, this administration is using some of our neediest kids as guinea pigs whether we like it or not, so just sit back and enjoy the show.

VOUCHERS, REALLY VOUCHERS

Few policy ideas have been rejected like the idea of vouchers have been rejected. Even people who are fierce choice supporters recognize the failings of vouchers. Yet somehow it’s an idea that fails to go away.

Governor-elect Bill Lee has painted himself as a pragmatic everyman, so there was some hope that despite his surrounding himself with voucher supporters as advisors, he would study the data and make pragmatic decisions. Yesterday he shot holes in that theory and confirmed his openness to supporting voucher legislation. At the best of times this is a terrible idea, but at a time when our schools are chronically underfunded, its a potentially devastating idea.

The problems with voucher programs are multiple. Lee talks about a young man he mentors and how school choice made a difference in his life. Let’s be clear, what he is talking about is offering a lifeboat to some students while condemning those without the means to take advantage of a school voucher plan, to a school even less resourced. It’s a way of picking winners and losers and fails to account for all kids.

Any discussion on the merits of a voucher program has to include the fact that the idea sprung from racist intents. As blogger and educator Mercedes Schneider points out,

In an effort to bypass the 1955 Supreme Court mandate that state courts require school districts to “make a prompt and reasonable start toward full compliance with the [1954] ruling,” [Virginia’s] Gray Commission devised what became known as the Gray Plan. In short, the Gray Plan involved the repeal of compulsory education laws in order to allow for school closure as a last resort to prevent desegregation. It also allowed for state-supervised student assignment to schools and tuition grants to allow public school students to attend private schools. …

Under the advisement of the Gray Commission that he appointed, Governor Stanley called the state legislature into a special session in August 1956, as author Douglas Reed notes, “to devise a legislative response to the prospect of court-ordered desegregation.” The resulting legislation based on the Gray Plan ( …called the Stanley Plan once passed) included both school closure and vouchers to private schools as options. …

[In North Carolina,] Governor Luther Hodges… created a seven-member, all-White Pearsall Committee. In what was known as the Pearsall Plan [1956], the committee advised the North Carolina General Assembly to alter compulsory school attendance as a means of excusing students from attending desegregated public schools. The committee also recommended that the state fund tuition grants for students to choose to attend private schools so as to avoid attending integrated public schools. The Pearsall Plan was not declared unconstitutional until 1969.

There is no getting around that history. Since there is plenty of proof that vouchers do not have a positive impact on student outcomes, we can only assume that some are trying to repeat the sins of the past. As Stanford Education, Professor Martin Carnoy points out,

“There are many policy changes that are likely to have much higher payoffs than privatization,” said Carnoy, including teacher training, early childhood education, after-school and summer programs, student health programs and heightened standards in math, reading and science curricula.

Come on Bill, let’s bring some of that pragmaticism to the table.

QUICK HITS

There continues to be a big push to focus on STEAM education and teach kids coding at an early age. Even though he’s a coder himself, Joe Morgan makes an argument for not teaching kids coding. He argues that it’s more important to expose them to life’s experiences and instill curiosity instead. Teaching them to explore how things are put together allows them to develop a thought process that will inspire their own creativity when it comes to problem-solving.

When we force kids to learn syntax, we reinforce the idea that if something is not a blatantly employable skill, it’s not valuable. Adults can learn syntax. Only kids can learn to embrace curiosity.

How to identify more gifted children from diverse backgrounds is a challenge for every school district in the country. MNPS has been extremely active in this area over the last couple of years. Last year they employed a multiple screener to successfully identify more kids for gifted programs. Unfortunately, this years district budget didn’t include funding to continue its usage. Out in Colorado, Aurora County is employing a new strategy that just may open the door for more kids.

“We had a system that was giving us the results that it was designed to give,” said Carol Dallas, the district’s gifted education coordinator. “That needed to be changed.”

So three years ago, the district paid an outside group to audit its gifted program. Based on those results, the district started testing more students, looking at new ways to identify gifted students, and developing ways to screen for non-academic talents. Aurora Public Schools is also taking a closer look at what teachers offer students in a typical classroom once they’ve been identified as gifted.

Per Chalkbeat, Colorado, using federal definitions, lists various talent areas where a student could be designated as gifted and talented, including in leadership, creativity, dance, performing arts, and visual arts. Aurora has slowly rolled out rubrics for those talents in the last two years, often working with experts from the city or the local college to determine what to look for. In the area of performing arts, for instance, the district holds a performance festival where teachers, as well as actors and producers, critique students demonstrating their talents. Students are getting excited and when students get excited, we should all get excited.

A tip of the Christmas hat to Stratford’s amazing freshman academy team.

Congratulations to the Bobcat Players! Their musical Bonnie & Clyde competed with other high school musicals across the state of Tennessee and won!! The Tennessee State Thespian Society chose Overton’s production of Bonnie & Clyde as the winning submission to perform at this year’s Thespian conference at MTSU in January! Well done!””

Want to REACH teens in Nashville Community? Advertise with the Hillsboro Globe! Job Ads are as little as 10$ Or partner with their Marketing Dept. to drive TRAFFIC to your business. Please consider investing in HS Journalism.

A lot of educators are still mad at JC Bowman, executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, over his role in the ending of collective bargaining for Tennessee Teachers, but I’ve always found him to be a champion for educators. His latest guest post at TNEd Report makes some solid suggestions on how to improve teacher morale.

POLL RESULTS

Apparently, this week’s poll questions struck a note with Y’all. Responses were way up. Let’s take a look.

The first question asked how you felt about Dr. Joseph’s recent comments at a recent MNPS principal meeting. 187 of you responded with 109 of you saying, “He continually demonstrates his lack of respect for teachers.” the number two answer was “nothing surprises me anymore.” only one person responded that they didn’t have a problem with it.

One person wrote in that “my reporting was out of context”. I must admit, I’m not sure in what context Dr. Joseph’s words would be deemed appropriate. It has also been pointed out that Dr. Joseph was referencing a book when he said made the comment about feeding teachers. Two points here, one he’s referenced that book previously and received criticism. That should have made him extra careful that his comments were taken in the intended context. Secondly, I don’t believe there is a chapter in the referenced book called, “We’ve got some folks snacking.”

Dr. Joseph, like my kids,  has proven very adroit in saying things and then when he’s called out on them acting like he never intended that message, “What?!? What?!? That’s not what I meant.”

He needs to remember, once is an accident, Twice is a possible coincidence. Three times is the establishment of a pattern. Here are the write-ins:

He needs to step down. 1
People don’t support this policy 1
He’s a narcissistic blow-hard with an over-inflated ego and he needs to go. 1
Your reporting is out of context. 1
It’s no wonder the general public doesn’t show us respect when our DS constantly 1
As a teacher, defeated 1
I’m not bloodthirsty. I’m dedicated to my kids. Thx a lot, SJ. Clueless. 1
It’s true and mostly rooted in implicit bias 1
Sounds like something trump would say 1
He is despicable; he needs to go; Dr Gentry needs to step up, show him the door 1
How can a teacher still work in that system 1
He has got to go. No contract extention. 1
Please tell me that he did not say that? 1
He’s lost his mind. Who does he believe is doing the important work on MNPS? 1
His obvious lack of knowledge is sickening and infuriating. 1
Disgusting. The tact of a dictator 1
It’s not the student’s blood teachers are howling for…. 1
This is no way for a leader to talk or act. 1
He is an ass like Trump. 1
Toxic Culture. Treats those who actually work with children like feeble peasants 1
That’s the last straw. I can’t stand this district. I’m out.

The second question asked for your opinion on the feel-good story of the year. The number one vote-getter, 39%, was the Hunters Bend Band appearing on Pickler and Ben and picking up a check. Number 2 was SW Quadrant Community Superintendent Dottie Critchlow winning an award for her leadership. Here are the write-ins:

Sad there isn’t one. 1
Hume Fogg – Blue Ribbon School 1
Jill Speering inspiring us all working through health concerns to fight for us 1
Dr Joseph resignation 1
Joseph resigning…nvm 1
Wait…. there were positive stories this year? 1
Positive things are still happening with disasterious leaders? 1
I can’t say one good thing 1
The teachers working so hard daily 1
Nothing has seemed to be positive enough 1
Infrastructure improvements 1
Nothing. 1
that teachers still show up every day and do their damn-level best 1
There isn’t one. 1
Positive news? Surely you jest. 1
Nothing 1
Any recognition that our students receive is positive. 1
No one taking Will Pinkston seriously anymore. 1
Jill, Amy, and France continuing to fight for kids and teachers 1
Where are the good stories? 1
Amazing SEL Conference 1
Jill Speering and Amy Frogge 1
Tiny stories of success that happen in classrooms thru teacher care and attn 1
That so many employees have had the strength and courage to finally leave. 1
Teachers are beginning to stand up for themselves 1
the negatives far outweight any potential positives

The last question asks who you would consider to be the first half MVP of MNPS. Congratulations go to the EL Departments Molly Hedgewood. She continues to lead a department doing great work.  Head of teaching and curriculum David Williams comes in second, barely beating out Dr. Sonia Stewart. However, all nominations are grossly overshadowed by the write-ins. Here they are, all 62 of them:

Amy Frogge 8
Teachers 8
None of the above 2
There are no MVP(s) now 1
None of the above. They are all pitiful! 1
The Teachers 1
The students 1
Julie Travis 1
likely a highly performing teacher that those in power ignore 1
I got nothing 1
you! 1
Amy Frogge and Jill Speering 1
vacated 1
Amy Frogge – the Series of Facebook posts are spot on. 1
Dottie Critchlow 1
teacher ignoring all the bransford bullshit and performing great work 1
The Baby Jesus 1
Teachers. Working in spite of ridiculous “leadership” 1
Frogge and Speering 1
Amy Frogge & Jill Speering fighting for students & teachers 1
Phil Williams 1
None of the above. 1
Phil williams 1
Jill Spearing and Amy Frogge 1
The teachers who remain and work tirelessly 1
TEACHERS 1
No one 1
Teachers. Counselors. Social Workers.Principals. Those who do the WORK 1
Amy Frogge speaking for teachers and students 1
Every teacher working to disrupt status quo and change students’ lives 1
Jill Speering and AMy Frogge 1
Where have all the good people gone? 1
Dr. Morrin 1
All teachers and staff who continue to do what is best for students as they are 1
MNPS Teachers 1
Any teacher not planning to walk away. 1
The teachers that put up with the B’S from the higher ups 1
Jared Amato 1
AMY FROGGE 1
I must have missed where the students name was place. That should be the MVP 1
The MVPs have all left the district 1
I miss Nola Jones!!! 1
Teachers are the heroes 1
The teachers who put up with all the crap 1
Battle 1
Amy Frogge Jill Speering 1
Anyone not associated with Dr J & his crew who are still here….pls help!

And that is a wrap. Keep your eyes on today’s board meeting. Indications are that it’s going to be memorable.

As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. if you think what I write has value, please support me through Patreon. I ain’t going to lie, we could use the support. Thanks and peace out.

Posted in Uncategorized

IS A LEADERSHIP INTERVENTION NEEDED?

“As a leader your job is to do everything in your power to create the perfect conditions for success by benching your ego and inspiring your team to play the game the right way. But at some point, you need to let go and turn yourself over to the basketball gods. The soul of success is surrendering to what is.”
Phil Jackson, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success

“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
Colin Powell

Once again the MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph finds himself in hot water. As I wrote yesterday, his utilization the pulpit at yesterday’s meeting of district principals to paint a disparaging picture of district teachers when it comes to school suspensions was not well received. In the narrative he shared, he is Maximus, the gladiator in the ring fighting the noble battle while teachers personify the role of the arena crowd, calling for more blood. He went on to talk further about his decline in pay since coming to MNPS from Prince George County Schools and to paint Nashville police as less than partners and more as part of the challenge. It wasn’t exactly motivational genius.

As should be expected at this point, last night, there was a tape floating around and people could hear his remarks for themselves. they were remarks that didn’t sit well with the city’s educators.

Some Nashville School Board members will likely continue to defend Joseph’s words and instead decry how he is under constant attack. My response would be that those attacks are directly caused by the director’s own words and deeds. Over the last two and a half years, he has failed to demonstrate the ability to self-analyze and correct, two very important leadership traits.

I don’t agree with the assertion, but maybe Dr. Joseph is more scrutinized than previous directors. At some point, he has to accept that as a reality and modify his approach. He has to look at everything he says and everything he does through the lens of his critics. Are his actions and words, giving those critics ammunition and if so change the manner in which he delivers his message. Bill Belichick isn’t considered a Hall of Fame coach because he writes up a game plan and sticks to it. He writes up a game plan that allows his team to obtain his goals by countering the strengths of his opposition. In other words, he is a student of the game as much as he is a teacher. Dr. Joseph appears to have abdicated the first role.

Teachers self-evaluate and adjust every day. They head into class with a plan of how they are going to teach. At the end of the day, they analyze how the lesson plan was received and the results it produced. They then think of ways it could be made better. Imagine if a teacher just showed up in front of a classroom and taught in a manner that they thought best, results be damned. They would not be very successful.

Let’s flip the script. If a student has shown the lack of progress in learning that Dr. Joseph has demonstrated, there would be a required intervention. If the intervention did not take place, teachers would be held accountable and accused of doing a disservice to the student. Yet, incident after incident transpires, and nobody intervenes. What will it take?

And I realize that some of what I’m saying flies in the face of yesterday’s plea to broaden the scope of our evaluation. I still maintain that you must have some proof that you are making short-term gains and that people are buying into your vision; some evidence that you are on the right path. Devoid of anything but internally produced data, Joseph’s narrative lacks that evidence.

The counter-evidence, on the other hand, continues to mount.  I looked at a report yesterday that shows the district has lost 143 certified staff members since 8/1. Some will pull out statistics to defend this exodus, but in my mind, that is a lot of people. A lot of people we can not afford to lose. It’s a number that has been consistent with the rate of exit for the last two years, yet nothing is done to stem the flow. It’s like looking at a leaky water heater and saying, “Eh…it’s not that bad, I’ll deal with it next week.”

I’m not afraid to admit that my readership numbers are down a bit and that does concern me because I fear maybe I’m missing something. Maybe my message is no longer resonating. But in talking to people, I have come to the realization that many have just resigned themselves to the current situation. They’ve waited patiently for board members to take action, any action, and when they fail to see it, resignation sets in.  When Dr. Joseph continually exhibits behavior that would be unacceptable in their role with the district and no response is evoked from the school board, or city leaders, a feeling that he is beyond rebuke takes root.

This is not a good place to be. It’s not a culture that inspires great work. It’s not a culture that inspires investment. It’s not a culture that inspires innovation. In the past, Dr. Joseph has referred to MNPS as a sick district. Currently, I think that is probably a pretty accurate diagnosis.

Last night an email went out instructing district employees how they could sign up to speak in front of the board and tell happy stories. After all, that’s the problem right? Morale is low not because of what teachers experience on a daily basis, but rather because they just haven’t heard enough happy stories.

Let me be clear here, there are some incredibly amazing things happening in MNPS. But they are happening solely because administrators and teachers are making them happen in spite of leadership. I would offer this comparison. It’s like celebrating a gifted athlete for his natural accomplishments and never considering how much more they would be capable of achieving if they had great coaching, great nutrition, and a great conditioning plan. I would consider that to be a disservice to the individual athlete and as such, consider failing to supply leadership and proper resources a disservice to our dedicated teachers. They deserve better.

Joseph shouldn’t be referring to them as calling out for blood, but rather acknowledging that they are calling out for support, for resources, for guidance. All of which Dr. Joseph is failing to provide.

THEY ARE BACK

One last side note from yesterday’s principal meeting. Standing by Joseph’s side was Scarlett Foundation head, Joe Scarlett. During his address, Joseph referred to Scarlet as a mentor. I find his presence of note for a number of reasons. Scarlett was a big-time backer of the challengers to the incumbents in the 2016 school board election. Candidates that many described as being pro-charter and pro-choice. Out of respect for those candidates, I’m not going to open that can of worms, other than to point out that Scarlett spent several hundred thousand dollars in an unsuccessful effort to influence Nashville’s school system.

The Scarlett foundation also gives a quarter of million dollars to Conexion Americas, an organization that school board member Gini Pupo-Walker serves in a leadership role. The Nashville Public Education Foundation is also a recipient of Scarlett’s generosity and recently employed school board member Christiane Buggs as a project manager for their Blueprint for Early Childhood Success program. It should be noted as well that NPEF under the leadership of Shannon Hunt, played an extensive role in the search that resulted in Dr. Joseph coming to Nashville. Being a private entity allowed them to shield the search from prying eyes as they weren’t obligated to adhere to Sunshine Laws.

Adding to the intrigue is the revelation that the choice movement is back up to its old tricks. ChalkbeatTN has a new article about a national organization that is looking to unite school boards across the country,

School Board Partners says it wants to create a “national community” of board members and will offer coaching and consulting services. Emails obtained by Chalkbeat indicate the group is targeting board members in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Memphis, New Orleans, Oakland, and Stockton.

I chuckle that Nashville is not on the list, but chalk that up to the results of the organizer’s last foray into trying to influence school board elections. That attempt resulted in a lot of money spent and very little to show for it. In case you are wondering, the new organization’s resources are drawn from the normal cast of characters, so far it has come from money raised by Education Cities, which had been funded by the Arnold, Dell, Gates, Kauffman, and Walton Family foundations, among others. Laura Chapman digs a little deeper into the players and provides us with a program.

Let’s just say I’m watching all of this with a raised eyebrow and a little bit of concern about the extent of influence Scarlett may exert in the upcoming contract extension talks for Dr. Joseph, and going forth.

QUICK HITS

With apologies to the fine folks that are employed by the Prince George County Schools, I have to point out that they continue to supply evidence of where MNPS is heading. Read the latest, where apparently the district double paid 18000 employees.

There are those that would paint MNPS and it’s school board as a dysfunctional entity. At least we haven’t spent $160k and countless hours on a director search that only returns one finalist, an internal candidate at that. Such is what happened last week in Denver. If that wasn’t enough, questions are arising around the finalists’ spouse and their role as a financier of charter schools.

Book’em Nashville is holding a used book giveaway on Dec. 10 from 3:30 – 5:30 p.m. Give the gift of reading to your student!

Over at Croft Middle School, yesterday was Project Lit time. Students discussed Rebound for their  book club! The trivia was heated with a 3-way tie, necessitating a number of tie breakers. Students are ready for next semester and want to thank all of the donors for making the book club possible!

Congratulations are in order to Southwest Quadrant Community Superintendent Dr. Dottie Critchlow, who was named “Tennessee Principal Association Supervisor of the Year” for Middle Tennessee.

Calling all student poets! As part of the 2019 Nashville Poetry in Motion®, ten youth writers will have their poetry featured on MTA bus shelters beginning in April. Submissions by high school and middle school writers will be welcomed with a final submission deadline of Friday, December 21. From this pool of submissions, ten finalists will be selected and will have their poems featured on MTA shelters. Poems are limited to 25 words and 10 lines maximum. I can’t wait to see the results.

The Comcast Leaders and Achievers Scholarship Program recognizes high school seniors with $2,500 scholarships for their community service, academic performance, and leadership skills. Deadline to apply is Dec. 7. Apply here

POLLS