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SOCIAL JUSTICE WARRIOR OR EDUCATOR IN CHIEF?

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not be measured by how pretty they are. Instead, they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.”
Sam Cooke

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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THE IMPORTANCE OF THE RIGHT TOOL

“You know I hate, detest, and can’t bear a lie, not because I am straighter than the rest of us, but simply because it appalls me. There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies – which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world – what I want to forget.”
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

“Feelings are much stronger than thoughts. We are all led by instinct, and our intellect catches up later.”
Bono

Imagine for a minute, a conversation where I stood in front of you holding a hammer and proclaimed it a screwdriver. You’d probably look at me a little askew and say, “No, that’s a hammer.”

“But I just used it to drive that screw into the drywall,” I would reply, “Took me a couple tries and not all the screws went in, but I used this tool and therefore it is a screwdriver.”

At this point, you’d probably start to ease away from me, and wonder how come I can’t tell the difference between a screwdriver and a hammer.

Now imagine, that you turn to the person next to you and ask in an aside, “Good lord, doesn’t he realize that’s a hammer and not a screwdriver?”

“Well, that’s what he’s using it for, so technically….”

I believe that at this point, you would try to exit the conversation as quick as quickly as possible, wondering if we all weren’t little nuts. Yet, this is the very same type of conversation we continue to have about MAP testing, accommodations for special education and English Learner students, and what is a universal screener.

MNPS began MAP testing a couple of years ago under the guise of giving parents a greater understanding of their children’s learning progress. In case you are not familiar, MAP is a high-quality formative assessment that is used to guide instruction. When used as designed it gives teachers insight into exactly what students need and the growth they have made. If you buy the whole suite, which MNPS does not do, NWEA will desegregate the data in a manner that will allow teachers to target areas of need for individual students and drive small group instruction.

Unfortunately, that’s not what MNPS uses MAP for. District leadership uses it to justify policy, and as a universal screener for special education, magnet programs, and additional advanced academic programs. We do this despite the fact that the MAP version we utilize is not a universal screener. MNPS has used the ruse of using MAP as a screener to deny special education and English Learners accommodations – read-aloud, text-speech – that federal law says they are entitled to. Even though it doesn’t meet the guidelines for a universal screener as defined by the state.

Per the Tennessee Department of Education:

In grades K– 8, districts should administer a nationally normed, skills-based universal screener as part of the universal screening process. Universal screeners are not assessments in the traditional sense. They are brief, informative tools used to measure academic skills in six general areas (i.e., basic reading skills, reading fluency, reading comprehension, math calculation, math problem solving, and written expression).

If a standards-based assessment is used to screen all students instead of a skills-based universal screener, a skills-based screener is still necessary to identify more specific skill area(s) of focus and to determine alignment of interventions for students identified as “atrisk.”

I think that’s pretty clear, no? Furthermore, the department goes on to give a list of preferred vendors. A list that does not include MAP.

So why is MNPS using MAP testing as a universal screener? I honestly don’t know, I admit parts of it lend themselves to the potential of utilizing it as such but it is clearly not the right tool. An email received as part of an open record request sheds a little light into the districts decision-making process.

In reading through the ‘timeline,” I find it interesting how little guidance from the state is mentioned despite administrator recent testimony at board meetings. It is also clear that everybody involved is aware of the problems involved with using MAP as a universal screener. Yet, it took weeks before accommodations were restored.

The question now becomes how does the district utilize data where, by the district’s own admission, 13% of those taking the test did so previously without accommodations and now have accommodations restored? Obviously, results are going to be considerably higher for those now receiving accommodations, giving a false sense of growth. To what extent has the database been corrupted?

If MAP was being used as intended – a formative assessment to guide instruction – this would be a minor issue. But, MAP has been designated by Dr. Joseph as the tool for measurement of one of the district KPIs. That makes it a high-stakes test. Based on the way it has been administered over the last two years can it really be treated as such?

Here’s another wrinkle to throw into the mix. If you go over to the NWEA website and search “Guidance for Administering MAP Growth Assessments When Results Are Used for High-Stakes Purposes“, you will see that they stress the importance of keeping weeks of instruction consistent:

For example, assume both the fall and spring test windows are five weeks long. The week selected for growth comparisons is the middle week in both windows (Week 4 and 32, which results in 28 weeks of instruction). If this student tests during the first week of each window or the last week of each window, the interpretation of the student’s growth will not be affected, assuming he or she gets 28 weeks of instruction between test events. However, if the student has 24 weeks of instruction because the student tested during the last week of the fall window (Week 6) and the first week of the spring window (Week 30), the interpretation of this student’s growth may be significantly impacted if the student’s growth is still being compared to the 28-week standard. Therefore, it is recommended that once a testing schedule is established within a school for a testing term, a similar schedule should be used consistently at all subsequent terms. If students will receive more or less than 28 weeks of instruction between their fall and spring test events, the school or district should update their reports to reflect the actual number of instructional weeks that the students will receive between tests.

MNPS is testing every 12 weeks and the testing window is roughly 3 weeks. Furthermore, our August test is in the NWEA window for Fall. Our November and February testing dates fall into the Winter category. The Spring test is optional.

Here in lies my problem when I am told that criticism of Dr. Joseph should be limited to performance. When he controls the data, both its construct and its method of dissemination, that becomes a difficult task. In constructing his evaluation there needs to be more of a conversation about the validity of the measurement tools that are going to be used to produce the data that will be considered and if they are indeed the right ones to use. If I showed up to a track meet with a watch that ran fast, I don’t think I would be allowed to use it to measure my race pace. The same needs to hold true when measuring KPI’s for the district.

We also need to recognize that by utilizing a tool for something other then what’s it is intended for, we run the risk of identifying all students who need help. No different than when we try to drive screws in with a hammer. It may work for some, but others are going to get bent and lost. That should be unacceptable to anyone.

ENROLLMENT

If you’ll remember, last spring the district found out that they were going to receive $7.5 million dollars less in funding from the state due to lower than predicted student numbers. There was quite a bit of conversation around this shortage and when the district knew. Based on the 20-day counts that the district compiles, I was of the opinion that the district should have been aware pretty early in the year.

Last week I began to wonder what those number might be looking like this year and so, I requested them from the district. They provided me with the 40-day count.

The numbers paint an interesting trend. MNPS continues to move in a downward trend in terms of enrollment. This year it looks like in K-12, the district is down by roughly 200 students, though that number is a bit offset by pre-school and pre-k enrolments. There could be a number of reasons for this decline – more single people then families relocating to Nashville, cost of living forcing families to live in surrounding counties. However, charter school enrolments continue to grow.

It should be noted 200 students may seem like a miniscule number, but that could result in a lost $1.8 to the district budget. For an example of what that looks like in real-world dollars here’s a look at adjustments made to individual schools’ budgets after the 20-day count.

Individual school budgets are adjusted based on these counts. Remember school budgets receive per student allotments. The rule is if after the 20-day count if your enrollment is under projected, you receive funds equalling half of the allotted per student amount multiplied by the number of students difference. If you are over projected the formula works the same, but schools forfeit funds instead of receiving them.

For some schools, the result is more money. Some lose some of their money. Some, lose a lot of their individual school money. Hillwood HS received an extra $327k while Cane Ridge lost $246K. Those are substantial numbers. It is easy to see just how important it is to get those attendance predictions right.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because a school gets another $250k they are suddenly flush with cash. That money is already spent. Hopefully this year we are better prepared as we head into budget season.

SPEAKING FOR THE VOICELESS

Spend any time talking to MNPS teachers and administrators and you’ll find that morale is extremely low. District leadership tries to downplay it, focusing on feedback that they receive at listen and learns. But I’ll use a recent listen and learn at Antioch HS as an example of how the district isn’t going deep enough.

After introductions, the was meeting was opened to discussion. However, the discussion was only open on one subject, “What was working in the district?” After a lengthy silence, the moderator informed those in attendance that they could be very patient. The silence continued until uncomfortable teachers began to slowly fill the void. Eventually, the conversation improved, but many never received an opportunity to voice their real concerns. They were left to leave their questions with school board member Fran Bush. The good news here is that she will get answers to those questions. It still remains though that important voices are not getting heard.

Over the past 2 years, I can’t tell you the number of emails and private messages that I’ve received from teachers reaching out because they either felt no one else was listening, or they feared retribution if they publicly voiced their concerns. School board members and district leadership can downplay the fear and dissatisfaction all they want, it doesn’t change the fact that it is very real.

It is in this light that board member Amy Frogge has begun sharing via social media, 5 comments a day that she has received. Some people may be critical of the initiative, but the truth is, she has tried to hold this conversation away from the spotlight and fellow board members have turned a deaf ear. Director Joseph himself has done little to assuage the situation. He has re-enforced the perception of retribution by striking out at those who are critical, both board members and employees at Central Office. He may deny that charge with his words, but his actions and the lawsuits that have resulted because of those actions convey a different story. Word on the street is that another one is coming next week.

QUICK HITS

The TNDOE has released the new School Report Cards today. They have some interesting information, but as always I would recommend that the report card is taken with a grain of salt considering the number of testing issues the state has experienced over the last several years. Per Chalkbeat TN:

“The information and ratings on the report card are intended to be a catalyst for conversation, not a defining characteristic,” according to an information sheet explaining how the ratings work. “Ultimately, a quality education is more than a score, and these ratings provide one perspective on how a school is performing.”

Five educators will receive one of public education’s highest honors, the NEA Foundation’s prestigious Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence, recognition as one of the nation’s top educators, and $10,000. One of those Educators will be former MNPS Teacher Cicely Woodard. Mrs. Woodard’s husband, Ron, is a high ranking administrator in Maury County and wanted me to let you know that in honor of his wife winning this incredible award, drinks are on him.

Congratulations to running back Devon Starling who was named the 2018 Mr. Football for Class 6A. Starling is the first Metro Schools’ football player to receive this award. Whoo Hoo!

, , and were each awarded a portion of an $8.25 million priority schools grant from the U.S. Department of Education. These grants will fund strategies for school improvement. Way to go guys! I’m sure those funds will be put to good use.

POLL RESULTS

Time to once again review the answers to this week’s poll questions. The first question asked whether you thought Mayor Briley should boycott last weekends Christmas Parade based on Kid Rock being the Grand Marshal. Most of you, 35 percent, felt that he should keep politics aside and just attend. 19% of you pointed out that his attendance wouldn’t make a difference one way or another. Only 8 percent of you supported his boycott. As a side note, View host Joy Behar appreciated the Mayor’s posturing, though I’m not clear on how much that’ll help him get elected.

Here are the write-ins:

Our mayor is an embarrassment. 1
He should give away less money to corporations 1
I think he should start giving a crap about public employees instead of rich ppl

Question number two asked, what does district number 2 Sito Narcisse do all day? It was meant in a light-hearted manner and many of you responded accordingly. The number one answer, 27 percent of the vote, was, “Plays hide and seek with community superintendents.” The number two answer at 18% was, “scours the want ads.” Four percent of you responded, “meets with and provides leadership to high school principals.”

I’m going to reserve comment and just provide the write-in answers:

A tie just depending on the dust between #2,#3, & #7. 1
applies for Superintendent jobs in other districts 1
Who’s Sito Narcisse 1
Clearly more than you do! 1
Who? 1
Out of state interiews and chit chat with his wife in the same office 20 ft away 1
Like all MNPS employees he’s busy looking for another job on Monster.com! 1
Finds new ways to rebrand policy that existed prior to Dr. Joseph.? 1
Rarely are Dr J & chiefs around except photo ops 1
Counts his money with Maritza while looking for other jobs.

The last question asked for your selection to be grand marshal of the holiday parade. The surprise choice… with 27% of the vote… News 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams. Gets my thumbs up. Here are the write-ins:

Jill Speering 2
I don’t spend any time thinking about this. 1
James Shaw, The Nashville Hero 1
Reading Recovery Teachers 1
It’s an embarrassment that we need a referendum on all social decisions 1
Somebody with a raincoat 1
Our city doesn’t have a leader. We are too busy attracting new folks. 1
Rinne 1
Joseph Shaw Jr 1
Waffle House hero James Shaw Jr 1
Keith Urban 1
Kid Rock. 1
Don’t care. 1
The Bang Bang Twins 1
Richard Fulton

 

 

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.

 

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THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE

“I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it is for or against. I’m a human being, first and foremost, and as such I’m for whoever and whatever benefits humanity as a whole.”
Malcolm X

“The answer is good things only happen to you if you’re good. Good? Honest is more what I mean… Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart.”
Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

You might want to grab some snacks before you settle in to read this one. Something tells me it is going to be a long post. We are living in some surreal times and I’m afraid our actions, or lack there off, are going to lead to some dire consequences unless we start getting honest with ourselves and people start speaking out when they hear untruths.

It seems like I have daily conversations where people say one thing in private and then turn around and spout the exact opposite in public. I don’t if the motivation derives from fear, self-interest, or just not wanting to step above the crowd. But it’s not doing anyone any favors, and there should be no reason why that dichotomy exists. Yet it does.

EDUCATION MEETING

This past week Council education committee chairman Steve Glover held the last of his district listen and learns on education. I joined about 8 other parents under the guise of the council wanting a further understanding of Metro Nashville Public Schools in order to improve upon the budget process for this year. Keep in mind under the city charter, the metro council can only designate an amount of money. They can not designate how the school board uses that money once designated.

In addition to the parents, in attendance were school board rep Rachael Elrod, her husband CM Jeremy Elrod, Community Superintendent Dottie Critchlow, MNPS chief lobbyist Mark North, CM Brett Withers, and a couple of other folks from MNPS. I listened and here’s what I learned.

  • Steve Glover and Mark North served on the School Board together and have seen everything. As such they have quite a few anecdotes, the evening was punctuated by frequent crosstalk between Glover and North in regards to how they handled various issues. I can only surmise that since the issues in question were still issues, their solutions weren’t very effective.
  • Steve Glover is a self-described fighter, maverick, and someone who tells people what they don’t want to hear. I can only take him at his words because I never got a tangible picture of how he was going to bring those traits to bear for MNPS.
  • Steve Glover doesn’t want to know too much about the issues. Any time things got a little bit in the weeds Glover, quickly pulled them out, stating, “That’s an issue for the schools’ board.” This was done in spite of the fact that there were only 8 other parents in attendance and people had dedicated 90 minutes to the meeting. Getting a little in the weeds might have led to greater understanding, but since he and North had served on school board…

That is the extent of what I learned at this listen and learn. Oh…I did learn one other thing. Steve Glover is considering a run for a council-at-large position. So, you can probably surmise the real reason for this meeting.

I did take one benefit away from the meeting, it provided me an opportunity to talk with CS Dottie Critchlow. Critchlow and I haven’t talked for several months, as I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with her continued support of policies that are, in my mind, detrimental to kids. Our conversation didn’t bridge any divides or even assuage any of my frustration, but it was a reminder that the people who hold these positions are real people who are wrestling with their own challenges.

Sometimes my frustration grows to a level that I lose compassion. That’s never a good thing. It’s fair to challenge. It’s fair to criticize. It is never fair to dehumanize. I have no insight whatsoever into the internal challenges that Critchlow and the other community supes are facing, nor the toll, and to what extent, it takes on them personally. That’s something none of us should ever lose sight of. So thank you, Dottie, for keeping it real. I needed that reminder.

SCHOOL BOARD MEETING

This past week’s board meeting was akin to the images of a Salvatore Dali painting come to life. I’m still searching for the connection to reality. Board Chair Sharon Gentry was quick to get the party started when she began by recounting a recent visit she and Dr. Joseph had taken to Carter Lawrence ES. She wanted to praise the principal but didn’t want to call her out because she knew she’d mispronounce her name. Huh?

Vice-Chair Buggs then told her the principals name, Sherleta. What’s hard to pronounce? Gentry offered up that she got the first name, but it was the last name. Sanders? The principal’s name is Sherleta Sanders. Say it with me, Sherleta Sanders. Imagine for one second how you would feel if your boss went to praise you in front of everyone but couldn’t remember your name. Inexcusable, but it gets worse.

The gist of the praise doled out by Gentry on Sanders was that she witnessed a child run up and give a hug to Sanders. I’m sure that Sanders is doing wonderful work, but are hugs really a true measure of the quality of work being done? If that’s how we are evaluating, then I need to be put in charge of the SEL department because every week when I go in to read, I’m inundated with hugs. As I walk the hallways to my designated classrooms I’m greeted with hugs and high-fives from kids from past classes I’ve read to. It doesn’t mean that I’m a superstar, this is just what happens with elementary school kids and adults who interact with them. Spend any time in schools and you would know that. It’s very rewarding and reaffirming, but it’s not a measurement tool.

Gentry ain’t done yet though. She then proceeds to point out the difference between what she witnessed this year and last year. According to her, this is an event that wouldn’t have happened last year. Really? Then why was last years principal promoted to a leadership position at the central office in the SEL department? Just one more sign of the level of disconnection between certain board members and schools.

At the 5:30 mark, head of instruction David Williams presents on a project connecting local summer camps and literacy. Williams and his team are to be applauded for getting 19 summer camps to do something that MNPS won’t allow its schools to do; designate 20 minutes a day to reading. Very worthy of accolades. It should have been enough to recognize the programs and the initiative, but alas we have to try to oversell data again.

A graph was displayed showing that by comparing the August and previous February MAP scores, students in the summer camps grew by an NCE score of .90. Board member Buggs asked what everybody was thinking, “What does NCE stand for?” Normal Curve Equivalency is the answer. Then everybody proceeds to act as if they understand what that means.

My issue lies in the attempt to show the camp and the kids scores as anything but a correlation. Over a 6 month period of time, it is virtually impossible to isolate the one variable that resulted in those kids increased scores. They could have gone to multiple camps over the summer, maybe grandparents worked extra with them over the summer, going to camp is an indication of having more involved parents and that could have an impact, there are just too many possibilities to name. This is indicative of this administration’s constant attempt to oversell things. Instead of just saying, “Hey we helped some kids a bit this summer” and leaving it at that, leadership has to try to add superlatives that can’t be supported.

This oversell process continues when you get to the 35-minute mark and data guru Paul Changus steps to the microphone to give an update on the districts key performance indicators(KPI). Look at the first KPI and it shows the district up-ticking by roughly 4% points. Ah, but that’s not an accurate number because it includes students that did not get accommodations – text-to-voice, read aloud – on previous tests but received them on the latest. Factor those numbers out and we are a mere 1.2% points higher.

Here’s an easy way to look at accommodation results. Say I have you run one race with your feet tied together. Then I time you two months later with your feet untied. There’s probably going to be quite a bit of difference between the two right? How is that going to be reflective of any training you did in the period between races? Same holds true with MAP testing.

“So how many kids are we talking about?”, you ask. How big an impact. According to Changus, 13% of all test takers had their accommodations restored. That’s a big number, no?

Changus himself admits towards the end of his presentation that these are the problems that you run into when you try to use an assessment for multiple uses. I’d add especially when you are trying to use it for things it wasn’t intended to be used for.

I’m also curious about how much the focus on lowering suspensions has impacted the other two KPI’s. The way it looks to me is, if you impact one, you impact both. If you factor out reduced suspensions, how much impact have your other strategies actually had on attendance?

Next up, Tony Majors and David Williams present on MTSS. MTSS stand for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. Many people equate it to Response to Intervention(RTI). They are very similar, but MTSS adds in supports for social-emotional learning. MTSS is designed to offer deeper enrichment then RTI. It a national initiative.

As part of this presentation, three principals from three different schools presented on their MTSS practices. Watch the presentation and you decide how these are examples of district supported initiatives and how much these are examples of individual schools carving out their own policies. For example, Williams makes mention of a grace year. What that means is that schools have until next year until they are forced to choose their intervention services off of a district created preferred vendor list. Currently, individual schools choose whomever they desire. During the summertime at a board meeting, Williams acknowledged that the district currently does not have a firm grasp on whom is using what to what extent. So…you connect the dots because I can’t.

The three schools presenting seem to be doing exemplary work, but is that work being replicated throughout the district and how do we know that? During the presentation, it’s pointed out that the district prodded schools to be deliberate in choosing a discipline model to follow – SEL Foundation, PBI, or Restorative. But not 3 minutes after that it is acknowledged that some schools are doing parts of all three. To me, that speaks of individual schools creating their models independent of the central office. All in all, the presentation left me with more questions than answers.

FOX NEWS GETS IN WRONG

Channel 17 News ran a report on this weeks board meeting and got several things wrong. I find it humorous that they went to former board chair Cheryl Mayes for a quote on the current board’s perceived dysfunction. Those of us with a memory longer than 2 months remember how little control Mayes had over her fellow board members during her leadership tenure. At that time, despite her best efforts, board member Will Pinkston regularly publicly attacked then Director of Schools Jesse Register. Those attacks served to move the board away from the policy of board governance and into its current policy mode. That change in policy was made official last year when the board adopted new policies that aligned with recommendations from the Tennessee School Board Association.

All one has to do is look at current policy and you will see that Gentry assertion of the board having only 3 responsibilities is merely her interpretation. The current policy explicitly outlines 4 areas of responsibility:

  • Policy Oversight
  • Educational Planning
  • Fiscal planning
  • Promotion

Board member Fran Bush’s questions during Tuesday’s board meeting clearly fall under 2 categories.

When Gentry name was submitted for board chair, concerns were raised about her lack of policy knowledge and familiarity with Robert’s Rules of Order. Robert’s Rules of order is the agreed upon manner in which meetings are conducted. Board members Gini Pupo-Walker, Will Pinkston, and Anna Shepherd were fully aware and warned about Gentry’s shortcomings and the consequences if Gentry was named the chair. They were told that she would not be allowed to run rough shop over meetings as she had done in the past. They chose to ignore those warnings and vote for Gentry. Nobody should be shocked where we are now.

A simple review of Roberts Rules of Order will reveal that the director was out of line for interrupting board member Bush while she had the floor. As chair, Gentry should have reeled the director in and informed him he was out-of-order and would get his turn when Bush relinquished the floor. Bush was merely defending her right to hold the floor.

The other part of Channel 17’s report that bothers me is the continuous reinforcing of the narrative that our school board is more contentious than other districts. It’s not true. Over the years, school board politics has gotten continually more contentious. Many are not going to like me saying this, but a large brunt of that contention lies on the shoulders of the reform movement. The introduction of charter schools and private entities has forced people to fall into, for the most part, one of two camps. Both camps equally passionate about their beliefs. It creates a recipe for continuous confrontation. That is on top of democracy itself being messy.

For proof of the challenges other districts face, all one has to do is cast an eye westward to Denver. Long considered at the forefront of the reform movement, they are now looking for a new director. A large part of the population is looking at this as a time to break with the reform movement, and policies they feel have proven unsuccessful. The board conducted a 4-month search at considerable expense. Deadlines were pushed back several times. The community expressed that it was very important to them that the search produces multiple finalists and that they have an opportunity to interview those finalists. Despite that expressed desire, the board last night returned…one finalist. An internal candidate.

Prince George County is another example. Just yesterday their chair resigned after a controversial run that saw charges of assault filed against him this summer by a fellow board member. MNPS board members Buggs and Speering may be having angry words on social media, but as far as I know, no charges have been filed.

The Fox News report focuses on how contention between board members hurts kids, I argue, what hurts kids and teachers is bad policy. It shouldn’t matter if board members like each other or not, the focus should be on outcomes. The school board is not a social club nor merely a PR mechanism for the director of schools. Per its own policy…The board shall strive to provide the best educational opportunities possible for all children.

In her written response to Fox 17 Gentry calls attention to the new discipline policy. A policy that was unveiled with no timeline, no communications plan, and no training schedule. A policy that many MNPS educators are concerned about. Though I must admit, I had a board member tell me the other day that they had not heard a single criticism of the policy. I found this hard to believe but if you have concerns and you are not sharing them with board members, they can’t recognize the issues. So please if you have issues with the policies, let board members know.

QUICK HITS

Local blogger Vesia Hawkins tweeted out a past blog post this morning that warrants repeating. In it, Hawkins reprints the words of one her kid’s former principals. Those words contain good advice that we should all heed.

Congratulations are in order for Croft and Antioch Middles Schools. The two are the recipients of a $5000 grant from Dell.  Way to go you two!

Tusculum ES presents Aladdin tonight at 6:30. They look forward to presenting their fabulous production to everyone. The cast members were wearing purple and gold Aladdin shirts to school today. Proud of y’all.

The Oliver  Band received a huge donation from Fork’s Drum Closet Nashville Jonah Hixon and Innovative Percussion, Inc. with products totaling over $5,000!!! This support along with the support from CMA Foundation makes Metro Nashville Public Schools The Best Place for Music Education! Great news!

Nashville’s Mayor is unhappy and thinking about not attending the city’s holiday Christmas Parade if Kid Rock remains as Grand Marshall. Really? The day before the parade we make this announcement? Look I’m no fan of Kid’s public persona, but this was announced months ago and not everybody is unhappy with it. My advice to the mayor is, suck it up, and head out to the parade. Your attendance is not an endorsement of Kid Rock, it is a celebration with Nashville’s citizens and some of them like the Kid. I ain’t one, but we got bigger fish to fry.

In case you don’t have enough comedy in your life, the Chiefs for Change have a new piece out on a future Chief... Nakia T Edwards. A clear indication of the kind of talent courted by the Chiefs for Change.

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

IT WAS THERE ALL ALONG

“Was it all inevitable, John?” Reeve was pushing his fingers across the floor of the cell, seated on his haunches. I was lying on the mattress.

Yes,” I said. “I think it was. Certainly, it’s written that way. The end of the book is there before the beginning’s hardly started.”
Ian Rankin, Knots & Crosses

“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see.”
Edgar Allan Poe

I am a big fan of periodically reviewing history. Our minds are adept at rewriting and even though we lived through an event, much inadvertently gets forgotten or altered. How often do we swear something happened one way, only to read accounts and realize it wasn’t that way all. Or how often have we missed things at the moment, but upon looking at them in review, with educated eyes, we see clearly why things have transpired as they have. It was in this spirit that I used the weekend to revisit MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph’s resume and articles that were written around the time of his candidacy for the job with MNPS.

In looking at his resume, the first thing that caught my eye was the demographic comparison between school districts where Dr. Joseph has worked. Prince George County was made up of 95.5% minority students. Montgomery County is 68%. closer to MNPS’s 70%, with Seaford having 57.8% minority students. However, look at poverty numbers and you’ll find Montgomery County is at 34.2%, Seaford at 58.9%, and Prince George County Schools at 61.5%. Per the 2016/2017 budget book, MNPS’s poverty rate is listed at  75.3%. When it comes to EL students MNPS is at 16.1% while Montgomery Co is at 13.5%, PGCS at 14.2, and Seaford at 11%.

If you just compare numbers in individual categories, it appears that all 4 districts have similar students. But upon closer look, you’ll see that Montgomery County, were Joseph spent the majority of his career, is home to a similar racial makeup of students as MNPS, but much closer to Williamson County Schools when it comes to poverty numbers. PGCS is a whole lot less diverse than MNPS and still less impoverished. Seaford is more diverse than the others but again home to much lower poverty numbers.

When you examine these numbers, you can see that Joseph doesn’t have experience in crafting policy for a district with the poverty levels of MNPS. Therefore it shouldn’t be surprising that the district continues to struggle with addressing the needs of our priority schools.

Of equal interest is the per-pupil spending of each of his previous employers. All 3 spend over $16k per student, with MNPS spending $11,500 per student. That’s roughly 30% less per student, and likely has a big impact on outcomes.

It also bears noting that in Seaford, despite the district spending nearly $17K a student, Joseph felt as if that wasn’t enough and pushed for a county tax increase. When the initiative to raise taxes failed, he left. Here also, it should be noted that Dr. Joseph came to the table with little experience in producing results with fewer resources.

Moving on and continuing to look at his resume, under accomplishments Dr. Joseph lists the following,

Improved ACT performance of students as measured by students achieving the College and Career Readiness Benchmark from 33.4% in 2014-2015 to 38.5% in 2014-2015

Huh?!? I’m assuming the 2014-2015 mentioned at the end is actually supposed to be 2015-2016, no big deal, but beyond that, I thought I recently heard board chair Dr. Gentry tell everyone at the last MNPS board meeting that a jump of this magnitude was statistically impossible. So how did Dr. Joseph pull this feat off at PGCS? Why are we not employing the same strategies here at MNPS?  If this growth was used as a selling point on his resume, isn’t it reasonable to hold him to the same expectations in his current role?

I’m also a little puzzled because when I look at the Maryland state report card for PGCS, I don’t see that jump reflected. In fact, the scores don’t look dissimilar to the scores in MNPS; a small trend upwards but basically flat. A trend that continued even after Joseph’s departure. So was it Joseph or the system.

I encourage you to go on the Maryland Report Card site and look at the results for individual Prince George County school performance on the ACT. The site allows you to see scores for the last decade. A review of PGCS performance probably indicates what we can expect from MNPS schools under Joseph’s tutelage.

Here’s the next item that caught my eye,

Led efforts to develop a comprehensive literacy plan focusing on improving reading, writing, and reasoning across all content areas K-12 modeled after the Brockton High School turnaround model in Massachusetts

Hmmm…what is this “Brockton High School Model” and how close does MNPS’s current literacy plan adhere to it? What I found was a fascinating story about a failing high school that made significant improvements. Interestingly enough, a key component of the Brockton model is that they,

“tapped the expertise of its teachers to develop a writing process, focusing initially on a 10-step process for writing an “open response”—an assignment that requires students to read a text and to write an essay responding to a question about the text. The benefit of the “open response” assignment was that it crossed “all disciplinary lines” and offered the opportunity for the biggest bump in improvement. No class or teacher would be exempt—not math, not science or gym.”

Equally worth noting,

Significantly, almost every facet of the literacy strategy was home grown. Just about the only thing for which the literacy committee turned for outside help was in developing an evaluation system. Szachowicz notes that Brockton High’s initiative was highly influenced by Jon Saphier’s Research for Better Teaching, which emphasizes “skillfully and relentlessly” quality monitoring and, in about 2004, hired Saphier’s organization to train administrators in how to evaluate whether the literacy initiative was being properly implemented. Szachowicz estimates that typically the school spent no more than about $35,000 per year on the literacy initiative.

Now that’s a bit different from what we are employing in Nashville. Very little of Nashville’s plan was written by teachers. I looked online for PGCS’s comprehensive literacy plan, but alas I found nothing that reflected the “Brockton Model”. So I’m not sure what Joseph’s plan ended up looking like.

In Seaford, Dr. Joseph claims he implemented the Malcolm Baldrige process for school improvement planning in all schools. I’m not familiar with the Malcolm Baldridge process so it was back to Google to do some research. It was a process that Joseph brought with him from Montgomery County. The Baldrige process allows everyone to have a stake in the education of students. Parents, teachers, students, administrators, and community members work together to build a common vision, mission, core values, and goals that address the needs of all students. It’s a pretty cool concept, but alas not one MNPS is employing.

One more interesting note, on his resume Dr. Joseph includes the following under refereed journal articles,

Joseph, S. & Davis, M. (2016). Becoming a data champion in 6 steps: How a suburban Maryland district uses its data to motivate staff and improve instruction. School Administrator. Alexandria, VA: American Association of School Administrators.

In case you are unclear, refereed or “peer-reviewed” are indicators of the highest level of scholarly writing. They are articles written by experts and are reviewed by several other experts in the field before the article is published in order to ensure the article’s quality. While it is an award-winning monthly magazine”, School Administrator is not a “refereed journal”. So while Dr. Joseph’s article with M. Davis might be a very informative article, I’m not sure it should be included here on his resume. Including it as such was probably just an honest mistake.

Reading through Dr. Joseph’s application packet and the names Dallas Dance and Kevin Maxwell appear quite frequently. In a Washington Post article Joseph is quoted as saying that Maxwell’s “tutelage, care, and support have prepared me to lead a complex, large urban school system like Metro Nashville Public Schools.” A review of Maxwell tenure could be perceived as a warning of what to expect. His administration was rife with scandals that unfortunately now seem all too familiar. 

Dallas Dance was the hotshot young Baltimore Superintendent that got tripped up for perjury. On his resume Joseph cites his work with both Dance, and former Associate Superintendent for Organizational Development in Houston Independent School District Kevin Hobbs as being exemplary. Hobbs went on to become a deputy superintendent with Baltimore Schools.

Hobbs and Dance are cited in sentencing documentation produced by the Maryland Attorney General. In my opinion, In hindsight,Joseph’s close work with either of those two individuals should have been a reason for MNPS to pass.

Looking back it becomes clear that Dr. Josephs resume is reflective of his tenure to date with MNPS; some half-truths, mixed with name dropping and spinning of data, coupled with some questionable associations. Comparing Dr. Josephs leadership over the last two and a half years with his resume gives a clear indication of what the future probably holds. Unfortunately, there aren’t any indications of great progress in that future. We can wish it was different all we want, but the reality is that the future lies within the past.

QUICK HITS

Rumors continue to swirl about whom will be the next Tennessee State Superintendent of Education. There is talk of a plan to bring somebody in from outside the state. Kentucky being the center of those rumors. I’m hoping that is not the case and that Governor-elect Lee chooses someone from the state of Tennessee instead. There are plenty of quality candidates right here at home.

Earlier today I came across this picture attached to a tweet by Dr. Joseph. He was extolling it as evidence of SEL excellence on display. But is it? I’ve read it several times and besides the grammatical errors – I know I’m one to talk – why do we have to single out SES students? What if we replaced “SES” with “Hispanic” or “Female”, would that be acceptable? Why can the white board not just read, “Let’s help our kids with memory and chunk it.” No reason to identify any demographic. It seems to me that would create a better culture. But, what do I know.

Local blogger Vesia Hawkins has woken up to the fact that 2018 is looking a whole lot like 2007. In her latest blog post, she gives a quick review of history minus a few important points. If she wanted to go deeper, all she had to do was read Dad Gone Wild 2 years ago when I first brought to light the similarities.

Hawkins interestingly enough fails to point out that the district went into near state takeover due to a lack of progress under Garcia. Nor that, even though the district was under corrective action by the state, some board members still felt Garcia was doing an adequate job, another repeat of history. She also goes on to repeat the canard that Nashville is more difficult a district to navigate than any other district in the country.

Still all in all, I’m happy to see Hawkins coming to the party late, rather than not at all. Her observations and predictions, save for the trouble finding a viable candidate, concur with mine. I do urge her, and everyone else, to do that Google search and find out about other districts across country and the challenges they face before we turn into Chicken Little. There’s a reason the superintendent job commands a $300k salary and it’s not just to be a spokes model. Nashville is not alone in demanding that a superintendent be all things to all people, nor is it an outlier in the level of passion its citizens bring to the table. And rightfully so, education is too important a subject in which to bring anything less.

Speaking of superintendents and other districts, Denver was supposed to announce their finalists today, instead they announced that the announcement has been postponed until Friday. Curious to see who is on the list.

Andy Spears is looking to tell your story. If you are a Tennessee educator drop him a line and let him share your narrative.

Don’t forget Steve Glover also wants to hear your story. He is holding a community meeting this week and he would love to see you there.

Taking a look at ACT composite results and the number of students that scored over 21. District wide 1404 students scored over 21. Of that 1404, 443 of the scores came from Hume-Fogge or MLK. All but 2 students from Hume-Fogge hit the 21, with only 6 failing to do so at MLK. The next two with the highest number of students over 21 were McGavock and Overton with 133 and 120 respectively.

From board member Anna Shepherd’s Facebook page…

Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 27th at 6 p.m. at McGavock HS will be the inaugural PTO/PTA meeting! In all my years at McGavock HS, we have never had this support organization for our students. McGavock parent, Kevin Walker, is organizing this meeting. If you are a MHS parents, know of one, or are a community partner who wants to support our students, please make plans to attend. I will do my best to be there but we have a SB meeting with a packed agenda. Bummer!

If you can make it, please do so.

POLL RESULTS

As we do every Monday, it’s time to look at poll results from the weekend.

The first question asked for your opinion on the new discipline policy. Apparently y’all aren’t fans. 34% of you indicated you thought it was going to make teachers and students less safe. 23% of you pointed out that it was another example of people not in the classroom dictating policy to those who were. Only 1 person said they were optimistic and nobody indicated they fully supported the plan.

The goals of the plan are certainly desirable, but the focus should still be on getting students the services they need. There was nothing in Dr. Joseph’s decree that indicated how student needs would be met, just that they would remain in school.

One thing I have to repeatedly point out is that, intentionally or not, the language surrounding the discussion points to a minority student being suspended from a classroom of white students. That is not an accurate portrayal. The truth is those classrooms are most often populated by other minority students. As a result we are asking our neediest students to sacrifice desperately needed instructional time without a clear-cut plan to provide services to the students demanding their sacrifice.

Without a plan to ensure those children causing disturbances receive services, we also run the risk of exposing children to even more trauma. Many of these children’s home lives are already trauma filled, we should not expect them to come to school and navigate those waters as well. All children deserve to come to a school that feels safe and inviting. This is one airplane that shouldn’t be built while flying.

Let’s take a look at the polls write-ins.

Unfunded mandate. Unlike what was spoken on a radio program, help was cut, not 1
Would be great if the people to make it successful were included in the decree. 1
Show me the policies that govern central office performance and behavior 1
A distraction from root issues. Other districts paying the same lip service too 1
a bit concerning and typically ignoring staff input 1
APs should make the policies 1
why Are these behaviors happening in elementary sc 1
It’s great in theory, but leaves schools at great risk 1
This is how he will claim he lowered suspensions 1
I learned of it through your blog – never was communicated to teachers from admi

 

Question 2 asked about how important you felt it was that the board get along in public. Overwhelmingly, to the tune of 55%, you replied that you were more concerned with the quality of policy. Only 4% of you thought it was important because it affects funding. Here are the write-in votes.

I am very embarrassed about how the board members are treating MNPS staff i 1
Concerned. SRO and plenty of help in middle, NOTHING in ES. 1
Abusers make subjects smile in public so that they may abuse in private. 1
since united seems to be destroying mnps I’m all in on causing a disturbance 1
what new Supt can we get w constant drama? 1
The current situation w/ our board is embarassing 1
Behave AND do their jobs. It’s entirely doable. 1
Being united doesn’t equate to effective-being candid, well informed, trusted, s 1
It only matters to the whimpering Zack Barnes 1
Who cares? Get it right for the kids and staff!

The last question asked how often you are on social media. Let’s just say…y’all got a habit. But it just reiterates the importance of social media as a communication tool.

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.

 

 

 

 

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COMMUNICATION IN A MODERN WORLD

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
John Dewey

“Integrity is not a conditional word. It doesn’t blow in the wind or change with the weather. It is your inner image of yourself, and if you look in there and see a man who won’t cheat, then you know he never will. Integrity is not a search for the rewards of integrity. Maybe all you ever get for it is the largest kick in the ass the world can provide. It is not supposed to be a productive asset.”
John D. MacDonald

I hope everybody had themselves a wonderful Turkey day. The Weber clan took its act on the road and visited family in Chattanooga. We stayed at a wonderful AirBB in the Highland Park area and feasted on a phenomenal meal produced by Priscilla’s sister Victoria. The children got a chance to play with their cousins, which produced an 8-hour marathon Monopoly game. The first annual Weber/Brabson football game resulted in a 6-6 tie. All in all, it was a fine holiday.

On the drive down, as well as on the drive back, I reflected on the past week. A week which saw a flurry of activity on social media. The exchanges were multi-platform, including both Facebook and Twitter.  Zack Barnes has an account of the Twitter exchange between board members, and a council member, in this week’s Tip Sheet, though I disagree with his analysis it is one perspective that is not without disciples.

Social media, despite being with us for nearly two decades, is still considered by many to be a fad, frivolous, and not a true indicator of the real world. As someone who can still remember a father who refused to get cable television because it was unnecessary and was something only “those” people bought, I disagree with that analysis. Social media is a legitimate communication platform. Like other communication platforms participation, or non-participation, does not by its nature make you a better  or worse person. Despite countless comedian’s comments and statements from football coaches, the reality is that this is how the majority of the world chooses to communicate. Like it or not, social media is ubiquitous and it is here to stay.

Personally, I have always welcomed social media as a platform because it cuts down on the relaying of mis-truths in the shadows. In previous times, an elected official could meet with one group of constituents and tell them one story. Then turn around and meet with another and tell a completely contradictory story. Neither of the two would be the wiser.

The veracity of a narrative would be dependent on each individual participants depth of knowledge. If something sounded good, it was easily passed off as such. Now, narratives are fact-checked by large groups of individuals. Try to slip something by not rooted in fact, and odds are you’ll be called on it. In most cases, it’s led to a more transparent governance.

Now is social media  a tool without fault, of course not. But what tool is? The telephone when first introduced I’m sure led to miscommunications because of the lack of ability to read facial expressions. Anybody who has ever used email can relate tales of miscommunication due to false interpretations of tone. As the use of email spread upon introduction, the rules had to be created. What was proper use? How formal or informal should language be? The proper use of emoji. To this day the rules are still being written. It should be no surprise that the rules for a younger platform are also still being created. A creation that can be fraught with missteps.

At its core, social media is another means to share ideas. Anytime people start to share ideas, it can get messy. I remember back several years ago when the Charter Wars were in full swing in Nashville. The so-called “Twitter Battles” were brutal and quickly became personal. I’d like to believe that many of us have matured since then and have realized that personally attacking someone is a not a means to enlightening them. I don’t think there is a soul that ever thought, “he just called me a charter zealot, let me take a look at his charts and data and check the soundness of his argument.”

Personally, I’ve tried to put my focus on content as opposed to intent. Too often we read a person’s ideas and think that we can deduce intent. This is the case in every subject, whether it be politics, race, religion, or education. The truth is that I haven’t walked the proverbial mile in your proverbial moccasins, so I have no real ability, save further engagement, to discern how you arrived at your position. That doesn’t mean, as School board chair Sharon Gentry has tried to state, “We can not agree with each other and neither of our of our positions is wrong.’ It means that we both need to expand our depth of research and perhaps consider our opponents experience with a little more credibility.

These days I tend to counter people’s statements via Twitter a little less often. Multiple times a day I type a response, only to erase it before sending. Or I just choose to scroll by a post and save the argument for another day. That said, I don’t believe that you can let people just make a statement that is patently false without addressing it. Like it or not, if it goes unchecked that statement becomes part of the public record as fact. When made by an elected official it carries a great deal of weight in the public narrative.

For example, when you make the assertion on social media that the refusing of accommodations on MAP testing is a result of the actions of the state, that needs to be corrected. MAP testing is administrated by the district and is completely independent of the state. Not all districts in the state utilize MAP testing. MNPS chooses to do so for several reasons. It is a useful tool for guiding instruction, used as designed and at its full capacity – which requires separate fees – it can identify areas of need for individual students. It is also useful for showing the growth of students. As a side benefit, it aligns with TNReady and it can serve as a bit of a predictor. Though keep in mind that TNReady is aligned to Tennessee standards and MAP is a nationally normed test.

So if I were to allow the initial statement to stand without comment, a false narrative takes root in the public record. That shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. As a side note, another Twitter user, RogerJH, disagreed with some of my assertions and pointed out that the MAP literacy test is a content-driven assessment, which devalues its usefulness. He makes a solid point and one that has me thinking deeper. That’s the beauty of communicating through social media, it allows access to thoughts and ideas, that previously might never have entered the conversation. But only if you leave yourself open for reflection.

In the Tip Report, Barnes takes the school board members to task for the their Twitter disagreements giving the appearance of being dysfunctional. You know what I’m more concerned about than how board members appear? I’m more concerned that they get it right; the quality of the policy they create. If a public dust-up on social media means eventually making the policy stronger, I’m all for it. If one board member does deeper research because they were publicly embarrassed by another board member, how is that not a benefit for all of us?

In AA, we are taught to get out of our head. It’s in our head that clearly, destructive ideas can appear brilliant. We can all convince ourselves of our genius if we never talk to anyone. I’d argue that getting involved in a so-called “Twitter War” takes a great deal of courage. You are putting your experiences, your research, and your deductions out in the public sphere for evaluation. You are opening yourself up for ridicule, ostracization, and running the risk of possibly having to change your tenets of belief. No matter what the format, that is never easy.

That’s why these days I try to focus on the ideas and not the intent. Will conversations at times become heated and slip into personal? Of course, we are all imperfect beings who should be in search of progress and not perfection. I find it ironic that we will refer to education as the civil rights issue of our time, yet we’ll act shocked when people become overly passionate about it.

School board member Jill Speering gets criticized for refusing to let Reading Recovery go in spite of years of evidence that it works. Why would she let it go when the evidence produced by opponents fails to demonstrate that it is not comparatively successful to proposed replacement programming. Knowing the number of students whose lives have been changed by the program, why would you expect her to abandon her position just for appearance’s sake? The same holds true for other board members.

Would Martin Luther King suddenly take up violence because research showed that the peaceful way was not producing results fast enough and in a cost-effective manner? No, he had seen the impact of non-violent protest with his own eyes. He’d seen the impact of other strategies and had determined that while the costs and pace of non-violent protest were not always as many would prefer, it was, based on his experience, the most effective strategy available. Many of you may scoff at that analogy, but think about it, if you are going to refer to education as a civil rights issue, how are Ms. Speerings actions any different then MLK?

We have to allow for people passions whenever engaging in any form of communication about policy. An assertion was made that, “Advocacy should always have the goal of being productive. If you have a concern there are ways to advocate for & implement change EFFECTIVELY and APPROPRIATELY.” Who decides what is “effective” and “appropriate”. Going back to MLK, I would argue that during his time many thought his methods were neither. Many would have also argued that he was being disruptive versus productive. That’s why I argue that we need to focus more on “getting it right” and less on the form and appearance.

Critics say that public disagreement gives the appearance of problems and impacts funding. They act as if nobody would know about issues nobody publicly questioned. That’s ludicrous. I would much rather see the honest public conversation intent on finding the best solution. For me, people publicly working on solutions inspires more faith than people bullshitting me that none exist.

Now don’t let my plea for patience be misconstrued as an endorsement for the belittling of people and personal attacks. We may all may occasionally cross the border, but when you take up residence, we need to be called on it by all. There must never be a place for consistent uncivil behavior that would be unacceptable in our daily face to face meetings. It is on all of us to uphold that standard and again, I’ve seen improvement.

It’s funny, in the past a local education twitter battle would break out and it would escalate with both sides getting personal. The parties would storm off and go to their respective sub-groups, bemoaning the lack of humanity and the mental inferiority of their opponents. Last week I engaged with former board member Mary Pierce over policy and it got heated. Despite the escalating tension, I knew in the back of my mind that the exchange would eventually lead to one or the other of us calling.

True to form, Ms. Pierce called me before I called her. We had an equally passionate but productive personal exchange. Do we agree on policy? Not always, but we do have a deeper understanding of the others reasoning process and that can only be beneficial. Twitter Wars are merely exchanges of conflicting information, the rubber meets the road in how we utilize that information. Hence the Dewey quote at the beginning of this piece.

QUICK HITS

H.G. Hill Middle School continued a holiday tradition last week. They paired with Rise Against Hunger to package 100K meals for children in other countries. Kudos and props to all involved for demonstrating the power of community and the role public schools can play in fostering that ideal. A valuable lesson for all.

Eakin ES 2nd Grade students participated in a Ellis Island simulation that was amazing! Students had a meaningful, memorable learning experience! Boat Ride-Passports Checks- Baggage Processing-Detainment-Medical Check. Well done!

I came across a new blogger this week. Dr. Elizabeth Gregory is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist who has some thoughts on children and mental health. She argues against falling into the trap that increased therapy is the be-all-end-all strategy for children suffering from trauma-related issues.

Helping parents to talk to their children, read to their children, play with their children, show warmth to their children, listen to their children, believe in their children, give hope to their children – all in a context of doing the same for the parents themselves who didn’t receive it in their own childhoods, is far more powerful than any therapy. This doesn’t happen quickly – again it is about being alongside families in their communities and facilitating them to do things differently by providing the most basic of resources, support, consistency and encouragement.

I encourage you to read the whole piece. Hers should prove to be a powerful voice.

Peter Greene, through his blog Curmudgucation, has long been a powerful voice on education policy and his Thanksgiving piece on the 7 most powerful words in education is among his best. Greene writes,

W. Edward Demmings believed that the answers to an organizations problems could be found closest to the place where the actual work was being done. The folks who have taken the reins of leadership in the education world would do well to remember his insight. But “What can I do to help you” doesn’t just yield the most useful advice for helping schools; it breaks down the sense of isolation. Teachers are used to working in a solitary setting, and they’re used to being ignored by people who make decisions that affect the classrooms where they do their actual work. Teachers are used to being over-extended jugglers who only see the bosses long enough for them to toss in one more ball (or cement block or running chain saw) and then run away.

Which leads me into our next announcement, it is time to hear from teachers, staff members and bus drivers in the Antioch/Cane Ridge Clusters and I am asking for you to please come and share your successes and challenges. This will be your time to tell MNPS what’s on your mind so let’s pack the room! This is for you and the only way things will change if they hear from you. Fran Bush will be there as your School Board Member representing you. Please share this information with every teacher, staff member, and bus driver. Can’t wait to see you on November 29, 2018 at Antioch High School, 5:00 p.m. until 6:30 p.m.

There is a school board meeting on Tuesday. make sure you check out the agenda.

I continue to predict that teachers will see a proposed raise of 4 – 5% in the next budget. That’s not because of any outpouring of love for teachers but rather because board members Bush, Frogge,and Speering have all indicated that any proposed budget that does not include a raise should be considered a non-sequitur.

Furthermore Director Joseph needs it for his contract renewal drive, MNEA leadership needs it to remain relevant, and the Mayor needs it for re-election. Safe to say that it’ll be in the mix.

Please join Council Member Steve Glover, the Chair of Metro Council’s Education Committee, and MNPS staff for a District 2 roundtable at John Overton High School. I will be in attendance and hope you will be too.

I have never forgotten that Dr. Joseph once told a principal meeting that there “ain’t no crazy like Nashville crazy.” That makes it fun to keep track of just how high his former stomping grounds keep that bar. If anybody wants to learn what dysfunction looks like Prince George County continues to be a model.

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.

 

 

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IT WAS THE WEEK BEFORE THANKSGIVING…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
James Baldwin

“If you ain’t in the battle, don’t comment on the war.”
Chuck D

It’s the Monday before Thanksgiving and anticipation for the approaching holiday is running high. I went and read to my 1st grade class last Friday and they couldn’t wait to eat turkey, chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes. Thanksgiving is a favorite of my wife and children as well, and we as a family are looking forward to the time together.

One thing I am thankful for is the fantastic teaching at Tusculum ES where my kids attend. As you all know, Tusculum is a high needs school. It’s the kind of school that parents often fret about sending their children and school critics try to paint as a failing school. In truth, there is no need to fret, and the school is anything but failing.

I’m often critical of MAP testing and continue to believe that as a district we are using it wrong. However, when used as intended – to reflect growth and guide instruction – it is a very useful tool.

Over the last couple of weeks, MNPS students have been taking the MAP tests. I like the way Tusculum does it – no fanfare, no hoopla, just, “Let’s see what you know.” I’m blessed to have two high achieving children, and they score well on the MAP test. Which obviously makes me proud. What makes me even prouder is that they continue to show growth.

As a parent, I’m no different from any other parent. We are all victims of the hype and fear mongering. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve been told, “Don’t sacrifice your children at the altar of your ideology.” As a result, we often question whether we are making the right decisions for our children and if we are putting them in position to succeed. Looking at my children’s MAP scores for the last 2 years reaffirms my decision. They are growing academically and culturally, and as a parent I couldn’t want for more.

So this Thanksgiving season, let me take another moment to thank everybody at Tusculum ES, from the leadership team to the ladies who run the office and everyone in between, including the crossing guards. Every day I put my children in your hands and every day you reaffirm why that was a good decision. You are living proof that schools are more than just test scores and that parents from all demographics can feel good about putting their children in their local school. Thank you again.

MONDAY BEFORE THANKSGIVING IS PERFECT FOR POLICY CHANGE

Over the course of the year, there has been an intensive conversation about the suspension, expulsion, and arrest rates for children ages K-4. NOAH has led the conversation and believes that it is necessary for the district to create a policy prohibiting the suspension, expulsion, or arrest of any child in K-4 except for 500 level offenses. Today, principals should expect to receive notification of a policy change that reflects that belief. A policy change that I disagree with.

Before we get too deep in the weeds, let’s be clear that I do not support the suspension, expulsion, or arrest of children in K-4 either. But I don’t believe that you take tools out of the hands of principals without putting other tools in their hand and concrete instructions on how to apply those tools. I also believe the conversation takes the focus off of 95% of the students and places the focus on 5%. The reality is the vast majority of kids go to school, follow the rules, and stay out of trouble.

There is a reason that the kids who run afoul of the rules do so. Some of it stems from implied bias and racism, and as such, needs to be addressed. The majority of it comes from the severe level of trauma that many of our students face in their daily lives. As a result, they need very specific services in order for trained professionals to help them address that trauma. The key words in that sentence being trained professionals.

That’s where I take an exception to the new policy. It puts the horse in front of the proverbial cart. The problem being solved shouldn’t be whether a child remains in school or not, but rather, “How do we get the child the services that they require?” This new policy outlines none of that.

There is an assumption made that if students remain in school, those services will miraculously be made available. While we recognize that there are areas that need shoring up, we assume that eventually funding for those additional services will be secured. Little detail is given as to how those needs should be addressed until “eventually” arrives.

Unfortunately, “eventually” never seems to arrive, and teachers, with minimal training, are left to try to provide those high level required services. We scoff at the idea of TFA candidates being qualified to be classroom teachers after 6 weeks of training, but we readily accept the notion that with some PD days, a restorative circle, and some empathy, classroom teachers are equipped to meet the needs of students suffering from intense trauma. We also talk about the urgency of a student’s education, yet we ask those children who follow the rules and try to learn as much as possible to sacrifice weeks of instruction while a teacher provides services for a troubled student due to a policy that limits options. Where is the equity in that?

We also choose to ignore the fact that our schools are understaffed with teachers already. Attend any PTA meeting across the district and you’ll hear parents talk about the lack of math teachers or the use of long-term subs to fill vacancies. How is a child who has very real needs better served sitting in front of a long-term sub versus sitting at home? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I can tell you how adults benefit from the policy. An administrator gets to mark that student present and the district’s rate of chronic absenteeism drops. Under the new ESSA act, that chronic absenteeism number carries a lot of weight. Chronic absences are not factors into funding and the distribution of other resources.

Talk to principals and teachers, and few of them support this policy. They certainly believe in the idea behind it, but they don’t believe this policy matches up with the ideal. Dive into the reasons why we are experiencing a nationwide teacher shortage and the subject of discipline rises to the top. Teachers don’t feel like they have any control and as a result, many don’t feel safe. I know when we talk elementary kids, we picture cute little kids capable of little damage. As a parent of a third grader and a fourth grader, I can attest that is not the end of the story. It is not uncommon to find a 100-pound fourth grader or even one like my son who weighs 60 pounds and is wicked strong. The point is, teacher fears are not unfounded.

In this proposed policy change, bullet point 3 says that “Law enforcement will not be called to arrest students in grade PreK through 4 (except for 500-level offenses). Administrative staff will call the Community Superintendent rather than the police.” Take a look at the student handbook (Starting on page 40) and you’ll see that assaulting a teacher is a 400-level offense. As is sexual assault and gang intimidation. In fact, the only 500-level offenses are attempted homicide, homicide, possession of explosives or a firearm, and dealing drugs – which I would argue should be a 400. Aggravated assault of a teacher is a 500-level offense, but what defines aggravated?

According to the handbook, “aggravated” is anything that causes more than “basic first aid.” And who makes that determination? I can think of at least one administrator this past year that suffered the consequences of a concussion as a result of a student action. Did that initially require more than “basic first aid”? I just don’t know how you can tell a victim of assault they don’t have the right to call the police unless they run it by their boss.

My fear is that in implementing this policy, we will negatively impact another area of need. If teachers do not feel safe in the classroom, they will ply their trade elsewhere. There is nothing, in my eyes, in this policy that takes into account teacher safety and the safety of fellow students. That should be problematic to everyone. Equity means everybody, not just selected sub-groups.

Another concern of mine is that once again we are implementing policy without the supporting work. Where is the timeline? Where is the training? Where is the communication plan? It is this complete lack of supporting implementation that always makes me suspect about whose needs we are actually serving.

Are we truly serving kids if we implement the change with no meaningful training? How effective can the policy be if we implement it but have only communicated the “what” and not the “why, how, or when”? What about the implementation before fully informing parents? Do they even understand the changes or the need? Should they not be fully versed on a policy with potentially adverse effects on their kids?

This is how this administration continually does things, in a check-the-box manner. Look at the changes in progress reports or the plan for priority schools; both share similar hallmarks. I understand the need for speed but getting it right should be equally important. It’s why I’ve always detested the districts recent mission statement, “To be the fastest rising school district in the country.”

Education should be about getting it right, not getting it fast. Is there a parent out there who thinks, “I like my school but we’re just not improving as fast as the kids in Houston’? Or conversely, “I don’t like my kid’s school but at least they are improving faster than schools in Las Vegas.” Quality needs to always trump speed.

I’ve got to ask where the sense of urgency comes from. A glance at the data supplied by NOAH shows that the district is trending in a positive direction. Suspensions and expulsions are declining, though racial disparities still exist and are maintaining their levels. That being the case, why the rush to write policy? What’s the actual problem that is being addressed here? Yes, work needs to be done, especially on racial disparities, but it should be deliberate, well thought out, and effective work. Work that also puts an equal burden on city and state leadership in addressing.

As for today’s announcement, being as it is the Monday before Thanksgiving, let’s see how many principals actually read the edict, let alone communicate it to staff.  Of course, the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are always a prime time to address policy changes. That was sarcasm. One thing this letter does do is allow Dr. Joseph to check a box when he makes a case for a contract extension. But how is that really putting kids at the forefront?

QUICK HITS

School board member Amy Frogge continues to fight for teachers and students with her latest Facebook post. Many wish she would quit bringing these very real issues to light as if they would cease to exist if nobody acknowledged them. Critics of Frogge make the argument that her calling attention to the issues hurts funding. I argue that it’s the issues that hurt funding. Just like arguing in front of the kids doesn’t wreck a marriage. Not addressing the issues wrecks a marriage.

Chalkbeat TN takes an extensive look into what the transition of the state superintendent position may look like. It’s interesting to me that everyone seems to be making a mad dash to say something nice and ignore the realities of the last several years. But not everybody,

“She was a kinder, gentler Kevin Huffman,” said Dan Lawson, long-time school superintendent in Tullahoma. “They shared the same political agenda and underpinning, but Candice was able to deliver it in a smoother, less abrasive fashion.”

Andy Spears over at Tennessee Education report also does his best to deliver an honest assessment. He quotes Tennessee Education Association President Beth Brown,

“As candidates for the state’s next commissioner of education are considered, it is my hope that serious consideration is given to an individual’s experience in our own Tennessee public schools… Students and educators are struggling with two major issues that must be tackled by the next commissioner: high-stakes standardized tests and a lack of proper funding for all schools. Our schools need a leader who understands that the current test-and-punish system is not helping our students succeed. Governor Bill Haslam has made significant increases in state funding for public education, but there is still much work to be done to ensure every child has the resources needed for a well-rounded public education.”

From her lips to God’s ears.

POLL QUESTIONS

The poll response was a little light this week, but still some worthwhile answers. Let’s review.

The first question asked who you thought was going to bear the ire of Will Pinkston after the recent election. Not surprisingly the majority felt that he would ease into a familiar role as attack dog for a person of power. 56% believed that those who opposed Dr. Joseph would become the recipients of Pinkston’s ire. Optimistically, 3 of you felt that Pinkston would be the bigger man and learn from his missteps. In related news, unicorns have been spotted on the lawn at Bransford Ave. Here are the write-in votes,

I’m sure he’ll act very “presidential” towards everyone who doesn’t agree w/ him 1
Shawn Joseph 1
Anyone who actively challenges his ability do nothing well and still get paid 1
Self 1
All of the above and then some 1
Who cares 1
Hopefully he will actually do right by teachers

Question 2 asked for your opinion on the prospect of hiring 2 individuals in Metro’s audit department to oversee MNPS spending. 27% of you classified the move as “more political posturing” with the number two answer being, “Maybe if he’d just go to meetings this would already be in place.” Only 2 of you felt this was the kind of stuff Pinkston was elected for.

I really thought there would be more response to the Pinkston questions, but he seems to have created an air of fatigue around his brand. Supporters are tired of defending their support, and critics have grown equally weary. It is a shame because with his intellect he could have really done some good for the families and teachers of MNPS if he hadn’t gotten sidetracked with personal issues. Here are the write-ins,

Hope he starts with Maritza Gonzalez’s paycheck 1
So nice of him to show up for work. 1
Ridiculous waste of money. School board should just do it’s damn job! 1
ridiculous-Joseph needs to be gone- not protected 1
Clear indication of lack of board trust. Let’s be fis calmly responsible, Fire J

The last question asked who you thought should be the next State Superintendent of Education. I love that Hillsboro HS Principal Shuler Pelham garnered the most votes. The state could certainly do a whole worse than elevating this respected educator. Some of the write-ins made me laugh aloud.

Dad Gone Wild 2
Sito & Maritza… save MNPS 500 K in total compemsation 1
A veteran teacher from TN 1
A printable who knows elementary, middle and high school 1
Susan Kessler 1
Dr. Adrienne Battle 1
Ron Woodard 1
Dr. David Williams 1
None of the above 1
All no’s 1
Tamera Lipsey 1
Shawn Joseph-at least he’s out of MNPS 1
Dan Lawson 1
Aimee Wyatt 1
Dr. Joseph. We’d be happy to share him with the whole state. 1
A real, truces and true educator who is empathic and savvy. 1
Sara Morrison 1
Sonia Stewart 1
Jesse Register 1
Amy Frogge 1
Shawn Joseph. He’d screw us less than he is now.

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. Peace out.

 

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THE BOXER

“Unfortunately, we’re just operating in an environment in which negative attacks, unlimited outside dark money, and unbridled tribalism is trumping — both figuratively and literally — everything else. That may sound like sour grapes, but it’s the truth.” – Will Pinkston on the trouncing of Phil Bredesen

“I am just a poor boy though my story’s seldom told
I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises
All lies and jest, still a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest, hmmm” The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel

 

The election is over, the dust has cleared. The results are in and it’s been proven, Will Pinkston is not the smartest man in the room. I guess that title belongs to Ward Baker, as Baker led his candidate – Marsha Blackburn – to a double-digit victory in the race for Tennessee State senator. Ironically he did it by utilizing the same dark arts that Pinkston so often employs against others.

Word on the street is that many of the strategies that ended up dampening support for Bredesen – the Kavenaugh response for instance – were designed by Pinkston. That shouldn’t come as a shock to anybody when you don’t believe in anything…well you can’t relate to people that do. Obviously, that one move didn’t doom Bredesen, but when you are involved in a race that tight, there is no margin for error. In the end, Baker was just more disciplined and as a result, Pinkston’s candidate got clobbered.

The question now on everybody’s lips is, what’s next for Pinkston? A renewed interest in his job on the school board? Throughout 2018 he missed several meeting and when he did attend, he usually departed shortly after the consent agenda was read. My thoughts were that surely he’d start staying for the whole meeting now that his schedule was freed up, but if this week is any indication – he left once again shortly after the consent agenda and before the presentation on ACT scores – bad habits are hard to break.

He did come out of the gate with some policy proposals this week. The first being that the threshold for board approval on contracts be lowered from $100k to $25. This is not a new proposal. Both Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have brought it up for consideration in the past, but there was no will to pass it. Maybe now there is.

The second proposal is much more intriguing though it reeks of political gamesmanship. Pinkston proposes that Metro’s audit office hire two auditors at a 100K a clip and their sole responsibility would be to maintain constant oversite on the director’s office. Interesting, but isn’t there already an elected board that has that responsibility. To me, this is like Marcus Mariotta proposing that he continue to play quarterback but the Titans pay somebody extra to come in and throw the ball. In the words of Patriots coach Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

In proposing the policy change, Pinkston maintains that the action is not directed at Joseph and has been a long time coming. Problem with that theory is, as fellow blogger Zac Barnes points out in his weekly Tip Sheet, Pinkston has been on the board for 6 years. If this has been a long time coming, why now? Why has he not addressed the issue in the last 6 years? After all, isn’t fiduciary oversight a large part of a board members responsibility? Hasn’t he been screaming, “underfunded district” for years? How are you going to ask people to fill the bucket if you won’t even ensure the holes are plugged?

What do I think is really going on here? I think that Pinkston is going to grasp the reins on the drive to get Joseph a contract extension. After all, as he likes to tell people, he brought Joseph here and he is his guy. This oversight proposal is the establishment of one more bulwark for Joseph. How can he be criticized for wasteful spending if he’s got two emissaries in the mayor’s office watching? Here’s a question for you though, who are those auditors going to be and how are they going to know if a proposed usage is a prudent usage? How will they identify wasteful spending? Will these two individuals be educational budget specialists?

Let’s add some things up here for a minute. We are proposing outside overview of finances. Bone McCallister is fixing the human resource department. TNTP is handling professional development. The University of Pittsburgh has the curriculum taken care of. NOAH is writing discipline policy. Am I missing anybody? So what exactly is the director handling? Why exactly are we paying him $300k plus a year?

I guess that is a question that may be answered in January when the board conducts its formative review of the director. If they conduct that review, something they didn’t do last year. Pinkston bristles at criticism of the evaluation process but last I checked, the formative review from June hasn’t even formally be completed yet. Does anybody have Baker’s number? Maybe he can get it done.

Good news is that I suspect teachers will see a proposal for a raise of about 4% in this years budget proposal. Forget that it’s the right thing to do, and remember, Pinkston is going to need to drum up some support for Joseph’s contract extension, not to mention the proposed raise that will surely come with it. This one comes straight out of the Broad Academy Handbook. Mute the criticism by buttering up the union. That creates a potential situation that is good for teachers but is it good for everybody?

All of this is admittedly speculation. Pinkston hasn’t talked to me in two years and has blocked me from his social media feeds for almost as long. Which to be honest, has been kind of nice. I do know he is a bully. A bully who just got his ass kicked, In true bully fashion, he won’t learn from the experience, but rather will look for someone else to bully. It may be charter proponents, it may be fellow board members, it may be people at the state level, it may be private citizens. Though I would be willing to bet it won’t be anybody affiliated with Ward Baker.

THERE WILL BE A NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

Yesterday Tennessee State Education Superintendent Candice McQueen announced that she’ll be stepping down after the first of the year to take a position with National Institute for Excellence in Teaching(NIET). NIST is a non-profit that focuses on attracting, developing, and keeping high-quality educators. McQueen will reportedly head up the new Nashville Office.

McQueen is personally respected by many educators across the state but issues with testing, teacher evaluations, and the heavy hand of the state burned a lot of that capital over the last several years. Per Chalkbeat, McQueen said being education commissioner has been “the honor of a lifetime” and that her new job will allow her to “continue to be an advocate for Tennessee’s teachers and work to make sure every child is in a class led by an excellent teacher every day.” While I often disagreed with her policies, I do want to thank McQueen for the class and dignity she brought to the position. A far cry from her predecessor.

Speculation now begins on who her successor will be. Several names are already up for conversation. Dorsey Hopson’s name has arisen. The current head of Shelby County schools endorsed Bill Lee in his candidacy and this could be his reward. State Senator Janice Bowling, a former teacher who supported Lee during his run is reportedly on the short list. District Superintendents Johnny McDaniel, Jason Vance, and Bill Heath are names that have come up and are all certainly qualified. In the end, Lee may choose to stay at home and promote current deputy commissioner at the state department of education, Lyle Ailshie.

There is also the very real possibility that it could turn out to be somebody not on the radar. Bill Lee is not a career politician and therefore he doesn’t have a whole lot of political relationships. That could be a good thing; or not. Time will tell.

BOARD MEETING

This past week MNPS held a board meeting.

I urge you to watch it. There is a lot of information dispersed throughout. For our purposes, I’d like to fast forward to the 1:30 mark where discussion about this years ACT scores. After the presentation board member Gini Pupo-Walker raises some good question about the difference in the achievement gap on ACT and that on EOCs. In her words, it seems as if the differences are much starker when it comes to the ACT versus the EOC. Dr. Changus doesn’t really have an answer, other than to offer cut scores as a possible culprit for the difference. He goes on the describe work being done with John Hopkins on early indicators that is proving promising.

At the 2:08 mark, board member Fran Bush lays out just how serious these scores are to her and that where we are currently should be unacceptable to everyone. She pushes Changus hard and then gives the scores for each individual high school. It’s not pretty.

At the 2:27 mark fellow board member Amy Frogge lays out her concerns that Dr. Joseph is not taking these scores serious enough. In support of that charge, she reveals that a test prep company tried to meet with Dr. Joseph in order to help improve scores and were rebuffed. Instead of talking ACT, Joseph preferred to talk about the “7 in his pocket”, referring to school board members.

Joseph denies the charge and Frogge brushes his denial aside by responding that she knows two of the people who were in the room and it was said. She then goes on to point out that Joseph has never taken the time to figure out who the players are and how they are connected. That I would argue is the central failing of this administration. They continue to try and do the work without building the relationships. Nothing is going to succeed on scale until that failing is addressed.

Following Frogge, Chair Dr. Gentry tries to defend Joseph but Frogge ain’t having any of it and tells Gentry, “I’m tired of the constant defending of the director.” Frogge goes on to make a formal request that the director stops the bad mouthing of board members at meetings with outside entities, something he seems to engage in regularly.

Once she gets the floor back, Gentry gives a classic Frogge speech circa 2015 about how test scores are influenced by trauma and poverty. The kind of speech that three years ago board members would roll their eyes at whenever Frogge would give it. Bush wasn’t having any of this either though and proceeded with a no holds barred rebuke, all done with a smile and a bless you.

Gentry and veteran school board members are clearly frustrated with Bush. Understanding her is fairly easy though. While the others are concerned with optics and politics, her only concern is teachers and students. Perhaps a little more dedication protecting those in their charge and a little self-interest would make things smoother.

One last note on the ACT numbers, as evidence of growth, Changus show black students who scored a 21 or higher growing from 20% in 2017 to 20.8% in 2018. That sounds good until you do the math. In 2017 a total of 2010 black students took the test. 20%, or 402 students, scored a 21 or higher. In 2018. less black students actually took the test, 1985. Of 1985, 20.8% scored a 21 or higher. That comes to 413 students. A difference of 11 students. Do the same math for white and Hispanic students and you get 49 and 36 more students respectively. Does that sound like exceeding expectations?

QUICK HITS

The calendar for next year was passed at the board meeting. So those who have been awaiting it to be finalized in order to make plans for next year should be able to find it on the district website soon.

MNPS has been awarded the American Heart Association’s 2018 Gold designation for Workplace Health Achievement! Check out the video to find out what is taking place to help employees get and stay healthy:

 

(photo by Gina Elizabeth Grimes Kelley)

The reviews are in and Overton High Schools performance of Bonnie and Clyde is a hit. You owe it to yourself to check it out. Showtimes are 7:00 Friday, Saturday, and Monday at Overton High School in the auditorium. Students get in for $5.00 with their ID- $10.00 general admission. This is adult themed.
Good luck to all these fabulous kids!!!

TEA ways in with their thoughts on who should be considered as the new state superintendent of education.

Local Blogger Vesia Hawkins has some thoughts for Bill Lee on how he should pursue education policy. Pretty solid.

I often hear people say, “I’d like to research things a bit more but don’t know where to go.” Blogger Peter Greene offers some advice and places to go.

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.

 

 

 

 

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THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE

“All battles are fought by scared men who’d rather be some place else.”
John Wayne

“Honor to the soldier and sailor everywhere, who bravely bears his country’s cause. Honor, also, to the citizen who cares for his brother in the field and serves, as he best can, the same cause.”
Abraham Lincoln

It’s a rainy Veteran’s Day, but I’m hoping you are finding the time to share a few thank you’s – both public and private – to those who sacrificed to keep us free. I grew up a military brat; a member of a family to whom service was a tradition. My father and uncles were Air Force, as well as my sister. Both my niece and nephew currently serve, he in the Air Force and she in the Army. Priscilla’s family is also heavily populated with those who have served. To those, and all of America’s veterans, I offer a hearty thank you.

Schools are closed and therefore things are a little quiet as we head into the holiday season. I’ve been meaning to share an ongoing conversation with my daughter and now seems an appropriate time to do. It’s a conversation that reminds me that to every action there is a reaction, and we should always be aware of unintended consequences.

“Daddy, am I Dutch?” she asked me one day as we were driving home from school.

“You come from Dutch and German heritage, but you are American”, I replied.

“I don’t want to be American daddy. American is boring.”

“Slow down. What makes you say that? American is anything but boring. You should be proud to be American.”

“I am,” she said resignedly, “It’s just that my friends are just so proud of their heritage and American just seems boring. I want to be proud of my heritage just like they are.”

This was an eye-opener of a conversation for me. As I mentioned previously, I am a military brat. The son of a Russian refugee to Germany. Diversity has been central to my life since birth and exposing my children to families from different backgrounds has been a primary tenet of mine. But what if in the pursuit of diversity, I’ve inadvertently lowered the value of being an American, something I am fiercely proud of.

In this age of Trump, nationalism, and patriotism has morphed into something ugly. Celebrating the greatness of America is viewed as the celebration of the oppression of others and as a focus on “I” as opposed to “we”. We can not let that become the prevailing narrative. It’s important that we value our shared culture every bit as much as our individual cultures. We can’t be quick to celebrate and praise other cultures while being proud of our American heritage is seen as an endorsement of the country’s worst angels.

We celebrate the movie “Black Panther” while ignoring the deep and contradictory history of Africa. We enjoy the pageantry of Hispanic culture yet never discuss the darker portions of its own history. The same holds true for Muslim and Asian cultures as well. I’m willing to bet all of us have been to some sort of multi-cultural festival in the last year, but how many have been to a festival celebrating American Culture? How many of us in celebrating those other cultures also take the time to examine their shortcomings?

I’m not downplaying the importance of recognizing and celebrating diversity, but I do believe that in the end, we have to take pride in our shared heritage as Americans. Yes, America has done some horrendous things in the past, but we have also accomplished things no other country has been able to do. We’ve created a republic, that continues to exist despite overwhelming odds against it. We’ve fought bad wars, but we also ensured that Europe survived. We settled a raw and dangerous country and turned it into a land of opportunity that is the envy of the world.

It’s important that we recognize our mistakes, but not for the purpose of permanent penance, but rather that we can avoid them in the future in order to continue to progress towards fulfilling our promise. There is no other country like America, and while we should recognize and honor other cultures, it is equally as important to honor and celebrate our own heritage and culture. This Veteran’s Day might be a good time to remember that and to make sure our children know it as well.

We need to remember that a whole bunch of people believed that what this country stood for, and what it means to the world, was worth dying for. There is nothing boring about that.

EXPERIMENT TIME

On Friday I mentioned an upcoming experiment that MNPS will be partnering with Florida State University to conduct. Over the summer I gave you a brief outline of what was coming. Here’s a little refresher of what that study is proposed to look like:

Twenty-five MNPS schools (see list of participating schools attached) will be involved in this study. Schools were selected based on interest and/or student achievement data. Because this study is an experiment, 13 schools will be randomly assigned to the Treatment condition and 12 schools will be randomly assigned to the Control condition in November 2018. The study will roll outslowly with Kindergarten teachers in the Treatment Group of schools implementing CKLA’s Knowledge Strand this school year(2018-2019); 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2019-2020, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021. Kindergarten teachers in the Control Group will implement the CKLA Knowledge Strand in 2019-2020; 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2021-2022. On- going professional development and ALL materials will be provided to each teacher at no cost to the school or district.

As previously stated the majority of the schools come from the NE and NW quadrants. in other words, Priority Schools. This was sold with Florida State taking on the brunt of the financial burden. Yet we recently allocated half a million dollars to TNTP – a major player in CKLA implementation – and this week it’s proposed we give another half a million dollars for CKLA implementation through Amplify, a company with quite the checkered past. It is beginning to feel as if we are the ones shouldering the burden.

In looking at things from the outside it seems as if MNPS is continuing to flounder for a plan to address the needs of our priority schools. It’s like we are following in the shoes of the Tennessee Achievement Schools District and trying to solve the issues through programming. A strategy that they proved was ineffectual. A strategy that has since been altered and due to that alteration, appears to be actually showing progress under the guidance of newly appointed director Sharon Griffen.

Griffen is a long time Memphis educator whose name ironically enough was floated as a possible candidate for the MNPS Superintendent job. Six months ago she took over the long-struggling Tennessee Achievement School District. The ASD was created by Chris Barbic in 2011 with the plan to take over the bottom 5% of schools and move them into the top 25% within 5 years. Barbic soon found out that some things are easier said than done. He left and Malika Anderson took over in 2015. Both came to the job with visions of increased rigor and promises of guiding families out of the wilderness.

Both of her predecessors missed what Griffen gets. It’s the same thing that MNPS leaders miss. Making improvements is not about rigorous curriculum, high expectations, or telling people what they should value. It’s about relationships. It’s about investing the time to earn trust. It’s about listening to stakeholders tell you what it is they value, By all accounts, Griffen is doing that work. She’s meeting people where they are; not expecting them to come to her. She’s building relationships one conversation at a time.

“One of my biggest goals was getting our communities to think differently about the district,” Griffin told Chalkbeat this month. “People only interact with the superintendent or the central office when there’s an issue. We want to meet people where they are and tell them what we are going to do for them.”

There is no way to predict whether Griffen’s approach will prove successful or not, but I do believe that she is laying the groundwork for serious improvements to occur. Her’s method is one that I wish MNPS would adopt. Everybody recognizes the power of parent involvement but few are willing to do the hard work required to see it to fruition.

Some of Griffin’s solutions rely a little heavy on charter schools for my taste, but she seems to understand the role that central should play.

“My goal is to work us out of a job,” Griffin said. “When we have empowered all of our teachers and leaders to build capacity within schools, the hope is that they won’t need us anymore.”

Just the opposite of what Dr. Joseph seems to preach. Let’s see who actually makes the most progress.

THE LESSON LEARNED FROM AUBURN

Football fans are probably familiar with the predicament that the Auburn University’s Football team finds themselves in. Let me catch the rest of you up. Gus Malzahn became Auburn’s coach in 2013 and led them to the precipice of the national championship. From 2014 to 2017 the team regressed and it became apparent that Malzahn wasn’t a very good football coach. Fans wanted him replaced, but somehow his Tigers managed to beat both Alabama and Georgia, two powerhouses, in 2017. Based on those wins, and forgetting the previous 3 seasons, Auburn gave Malzahn a contract extension through 2024 and gave him a raise from $4.725 million per year to an even $7 million average.

Now it’s 2018 and the Auburn season is a mess. Everything everybody already knew about Malzahn is being proven again. Fan’s are restless and want a change at the top. Ah, but now there is a catch. Fire him this year and the university has to pay him $32.1 million. Heck, even wait until 2021 and it will cost $16 million. In other words, Malzahn ain’t going anywhere for a long time.

The lesson to be learned here? Be careful in handing out contracts lest you tie your hands in the future. What you know now, is most likely what you’ll know in 2 years. Don’t get blinded by shiny things. I wonder if Dr. Joseph has a picture of Gus Malzahn on his office wall.

QUICK HITS

The parent of any child that receives services through the exceptional education is eligible to attend the meetings of the exceptional ed department’s parent advisory committee. There is a meeting this Wednesday at Robertson Academy from 11:30 to 12:30. Its a great way to spend a lunch hour.

You’ve utilized book-mobiles, mobile groomers, and food trucks, now there is a new mobile service, mobile pre-schools. Rural school districts have experimented with the concept but now they are coming to parts of Denver. Per a new report in Chalkbeat:

The rolling preschools, which travel to apartment complexes or mobile home parks a couple of times per week, are seen as an innovative way to reach children who can’t access traditional bricks-and-mortar preschools.

I must say I am fascinated by the concept, and it seems like a good way to help bring pre-k education to families that might not be able to participate in brick and mortar preschools. The mobile classrooms are not without their own challenges though. They are expensive and…

Ensuring basic sanitation can be a stumbling block, too. Since Dutmar has one Magic Bus without a bathroom, it must be parked near a public restroom. Especially in the winter, bundling up wiggly children just for a bathroom break eats up a lot of time, she said. The good news is the foundation just finished its fund-raising campaign for a second Magic Bus motor home, which will arrive bathroom-equipped next summer.

An independent investigation has exonerated Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney. This is in relation to an incident that took place last February where Looney was charged with assaulting a student and a parent at Franklin High School after police were called to handle a psychological episode. A judge dismissed the two assault charges in April. The new investigation goes even further.

“This review determined that Dr. Looney was acting within the scope of his legal authority,” City Administrator Eric Stuckey said. “Moreover, the City respects the conclusion reached by Williamson County Judge Tom Taylor dismissing the charges and recognizes that all records relating to the incident were expunged by order of the court.  As a result, no formal report relating to this internal investigation will be published. The evidence suggests that all school personnel and first responders acted in good faith and were seeking to provide a student with the care she needed.” 

Hopefully, this closes the book on a rather bizarre incident.

In all the hoopla over the last week, I forgot to congratulate one of my favorite people on a big win. Gloria Johnson is heading back to the statehouse and we all are going to be better for it.

Stan Lee has left the building. He will be sorely missed. I urge you to read a piece he did for the Atlantic where he offered a powerful definition of the American idea. Thank you, Stan the Man.

And as one great one exits the building another enters. Congratulations to Katie and David Jones as they welcome the newest addition to the Oliver family.

POLL RESULTS

As always, Monday’s mean results and here the results from this week’s poll questions.

The first question asked for your feeling on how education will fare under newly elected Governor Lee. Not surprisingly most of you, 43%, are taking the wait and see approach. However, 28% of you are predicting a trainwreck. While 18% of you thought it can’t be worse than it already is. Only 3% of you think it’s going to be fantastic. Here are the write-ins.

Please share the Vocational Ed was retired in 1994. CTE is the current policy 1
I’m worried. 1
I just hope he actually cares about compensating teachers. It’s abysmal. 1
I think he won’t really fix the BEP

Question two asked you to grade the Joseph administration on its encouragement of parental involvement. The results do not present a ringing endorsement for Dr. Joseph. 56% of you responded that it was a shame that you couldn’t score him lower than a 50. 20% of you scored the doctor a “D”. That means that over 75% of respondents gave a failing mark to the district. The highest grade received was a single “B”. Clearly, work needs to be done. Here are the write-ins.

think schools try to be intentional. But there is nothing from the district 1
I know tons of parents, myself included, looking for an opportunity 1
Better late than never? 1
F 1
Only happens when it benefits Joseph & Cronies. Farce. They don’t care. 1
Schools have so much to do already.Can’t do it all 1
They don’t listen to the parents who are already involved. 1
involved patrents are empowered enough to hold MNPS accountable …

The last question asked whether the district should renew the Teach For America contract when it comes up in a few weeks. 41% of you said under absolutely no circumstances with 30% of you indicating that the money could be put to better use elsewhere. If you are a board member and you are wondering how to vote, that’s over 70% that say “no”. Only 3% felt that TFA offered great teachers. Here are the write-ins.

No 1
Absolutely not. Demeans the teaching profession 1
Maybe if HR did their job, we wouldn’t need TFA 1
No, and investigate Roderick Webb at Marshall MS 1
I don’t like TFA but I’m not convinced the HR dept can fill vacancies without it 1
Who gets a kickback for this

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. Peace out.

 

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SNEAKING SALLY THROUGH THE ALLEY

“There are books full of great writing that don’t have very good stories. Read sometimes for the story… don’t be like the book-snobs who won’t do that. Read sometimes for the words–the language. Don’t be like the play-it-safers who won’t do that. But when you find a book that has both a good story and good words, treasure that book.”
Stephen King

“I want to disabuse people of the idea that knowledge is power. Knowing how to get to Detroit is not the same thing as having the bus fare.”
Andrew Vachss

 

Things typically calm down around this time of year, but for whatever the reason, this week was a busy one on a lot of different fronts. Let’s see how much of it we can cover.

The first thing I want to get to is that mess of a blog post from Monday. I think I tried to do too much with limited space. Whatever the case, it became a convoluted mess that left several of my points buried and made it appear as if I undervalue SEL.

These are the points I was trying to make:

  • SEL is certainly very important, but equally important is a love of content and the art of teaching. Yes, teaching is an art.
  • SEL works best, in my opinion, when it is authentic. Bad SEL practice is every bit as harmful as a lack of SEL.
  • I’m still not clear on where the line between great teaching and SEL practices fall or if there even is a line.
  • Making it a job requirement to love everybody you are responsible for is a lot of pressure to put on someone. Imagine if I made it a job requirement for you to love everyone you work with. You can serve and respect, without love.
  • How do you differentiate between results derived from district policy and sheer determination of teachers to ensure kids succeed? Isn’t it possible that two points of growth in actually is a loss of growth, because if policy aligned with teacher practice, growth would have doubled?
  • We put too much on the plate of teachers both in expectations and in time requirements. Teachers are amazing, but we can’t expect them to be superhuman.
  • Lastly, great teaching comes in all shapes, sizes, and looks. We should foster great teaching, not try to jam it into a cookie cutter model that fits preconceived notions.

I hope that’s a little clearer.

Tuesday was parent/parent conference time in MNPS. I just have to take a moment and say how truly blessed the Weber’s as a family has been by the teachers assigned to my kids. This is Avery’s 5th year at Tusculum and Peter’s 4th and they have had great instructors every year. As I sat in conference with this year’s teachers I couldn’t help but be struck by just how good they were. Let me just say, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. A million times thank you.

Speaking of SEL practices, Avery’s teacher utilizes the conversation carpet. As I’ve learned this year, 4th-grade girls have a lot of conflicts. The conversation carpet gives them a place to resolve those conflicts. But as I said, the best SEL is rooted in authenticity, and Ms. Economos has the rep of being a “chill girl”. It’s that rep that empowers the carpet and makes it effective.

PARENT VOICE

Moving on, you might have heard me mention that Dr. Joseph is getting to the twilight of his first contract and it’s my belief that he’s currently preparing to bring up the subject of his next contract with MNPS. The current contract ends June of 2020 and therefore in an effort to avoid going into the final year with lame-duck status, he’ll want to get it done between now and February when budget season begins. Who better to champion a new contract but parents, unfortunately, parent involvement over the past two years hasn’t exactly been a priority.

Previously in the district, there existed a Parent Advisory Committee. Each cluster had its own PAC which was made up of one representative from each school in the cluster. Each cluster PAC elected 2 representatives who would meet 4 times a year with other cluster representatives and the director of schools. It wasn’t always pretty but it did provide a pipeline to the director and allowed parents from across the district to come together and discuss district challenges and successes. The criterion for representation was transparent and uniform.

Despite having a president, Barry Barlow, since Dr. Joseph’s arrival the district PAC has not met once. Cluster PAC’s have also gone dormant with only 3 – Overton, Hillsboro, and Stratford – having consistently met over the last 2 and a half years. I’m very proud to say that Overton stayed active through the efforts of Abby Trotter and myself, plus the tremendous support of the school administrators in the Overton Cluster. I know y’all are partial to your own, but we really do have the best.

Last Monday, Dr.Joseph convened a group of roughly 25 parents from across the district to discuss what parent voice would look like going forth. He instructed the community superintendents to select one parent from each cluster across the district to be representative of their cluster. What were the criteria for selection? Who knows. That was left to the discretion of the superintendents who as far as I know, kept that information to themselves. Where did the other 13 parents come from you ask? Again, who knows. Everything was done in a very clandestine manner.

Why do I say clandestine? Because the very day before the district meeting community superintendents sat in meetings with cluster parents and never once mentioned that such a meeting was even pending. That to me is the very definition of clandestine. If parent voice was truly the goal, why was notice of the meeting not given along with notice of who the representation was and the criteria of why they were selected? Would an existing parent meeting not be a prime place to garner information on what actually involved parents would like to see from the district. Instead, nobody said anything and I wonder how many parents even know such a meeting took place. Furthermore, in a follow-up tweet Dr. Joseph referred to the meeting as a PAC meeting despite many elected PAC leaders being excluded.

Apparently, the meeting was such a success that another one is scheduled for the near future. In this meeting, further steps will be taken to shape how parent voice is expressed in the future. Twenty-five people hand selected by district leaders will now dictate the model for parent voice going forward. District leaders love saying words like “transparency” and “equity”, but seldom do they live those words.

Joseph also tweeted a bizarre tweet reassuring parents that they didn’t have to have a college degree in order to advocate for their child. Ok…glad that was cleared up.

WHAT ACCOMMODATIONS

Don’t think for one minute that we are done with the sneakiness. As many of you know, upon Dr. Joseph’s arrival MNPS instituted MAP testing 3 times a year. What you may, or may not know, is that when administrating these tests, special needs students and EL students are supposed to receive the same accommodations – text-speech, read aloud – that they would receive on TNReady testing. Students did not receive those accommodations on the tests administered at the start of the school year. Parents were not officially notified that their children would not receive the expected accommodations at that time. In fact, many didn’t find out until the day of testing.

MNPS’s reasoning?

Previously schools were directed not to administer the Reading portion of MAP with Read Aloud or Text-to-Speech accommodations due to concerns that administering with this accommodation could result in failure to identify students at risk. However, students eligible for accommodations have previously been identified as being academically at risk.

That statement makes absolutely no sense because, first of all, MAP IS NOT A SCREENER. Let me say that again because, despite the “Dr” in front of their name many in MNPS can’t seem to accept it,  MAP IS NOT A SCREENER. Per NWEA, the test creator, there is a screener version but the district utilizes the growth model. I know you’ve been led to believe that we have the Super Duper Magical MAP test that does all things for all people, but that is not true. Using the growth model for a screener is like using a hammer for a screwdriver. Both are useful tools but perform very different functions.

After several parents drew district leaders attention to the fact that by not allowing accommodations, the district was not in compliance with federal regulations, the accommodations were miraculously restored. This is important information for parents to know. Many of you will have parent/teacher conferences that include MAP data. Now that the accommodations have been restored, some special needs and EL students will show miraculous growth. Based on this growth, a parent may be presented with the theory that their child’s MAP scores suggest that they don’t require special services. Please don’t be fooled.

In a couple of weeks, we will begin a districtwide discussion about MAP scores. With at least 8000k students now receiving accommodations who didn’t receive them on the initial test, I don’t know how you have an authentic conversation about results. Are the scores of all those kids going to be factored out? And if so, how accurate a picture does that paint?

One last thought on data, which I unsuccessfully tried to address earlier in the week, how do we draw a cause and effect line when it comes to the data we have? All schools across the district are not implementing district policy with the same fidelity, so how can success, or failure, be attributed to policy. By Dr. Joseph’s own admission, all schools do not have access to the same resources required in order to fully implement district policy. How much impact does that have? How much impact do individual teachers have? It may just be me, but I see way too many variables to be able to discern whether it’s causation or correlation at work.

ENHANCED SCHOOLS 

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been a lot of whispers around funding next year for enhanced option schools. These are schools that were empowered with special provisions through past desegregation acts. One of the big provisions being the extended school day. The talk has been that the district put pressure on these schools to end the extended school days. The district says that’s not true. Their only desire is that schools be a lot more intentional with their funding.

2018-19 student enrollment at the Enhanced Option Schools runs between 242 to 385 students at each school. The funds provided to each school for the extra 45 minutes of school/day ranged from $200,000 – $280,000/school based on enrollment. Most of these schools also receive a baseline supplement because the small student enrollment does not generate adequate money to fully staff a building in the student based budgeting model; these baseline supplemental amounts ranged from $237,140- $423,682 per building for 2018-19. The schools will not lose that money, either. The only precaution given in the meeting with school leaders and in response to individual questions was that any request for an “exception hire” may not be honored. (An exception hire request is to cover a unique situation that was not included in budgeting.) Enhanced Option Schools receive Title I funds that can cover those unique types of requests. Only two Enhanced Option Schools received “exception hire” funding for the 2018-19 school year.

The district’s position appears to be a reasonable one. But, this is where the establishment of trust is so essential. District leaders have failed to build up the level of trust needed in order to be effective. As a result, reasonable initiatives are looked at with nefarious intentions, as in this case.

The other thing is timing. This administration loves to present things up against a deadline. That doesn’t work well with most people. You have to implement things on a proper timeline. Rush people and they’ll feel like you are trying to bully them into a position, even if that’s not your intention. Again, a factor in play here.

RANDOM STUFF

Tennessee has a new governor in Bill Lee and when it comes to education he’s already making missteps by referring to Tennessee’s education system as being at the bottom of the nation. He quickly walked that one back. Many public education advocates are already wringing their hands over what policy Lee, an avowed fan of vouchers, might push. Let’s take a deep breath and see what steps he takes first. I would remind you of the unpopularity of education reform policies – vouchers, wholesale charter school growth, Teach for America – across the country. Whether its Newark, Indianapolis, Denver, New Orleans, or Memphis, nowhere in the country do those policies hold widespread appeal. Hopefully, Governor Lee will surround himself with people who will advise him on much sounder practices.

The arguments only get tougher for the ED reform crowd as more data is now available as opposed to as recently as two years ago. There are some charter schools that perform at a high level, and some that do not. Just like traditional schools. In light of the fact that neither is a magic bullet, why dismantle a system that has served the country well for years? It doesn’t make sense. Let’s invest in our existing schools before peeling off resources for a new unproven system.

Speaking of Teach for America, they have now arrived in Chattanooga; 15 teachers, 4 years, one million dollars. But that’s not the whole of it.

Those in favor of the agreement — which will actually cost about $3.3 million over five years — emphasized that the board’s $250,000 a year commitment is coming out of state grant money for the district’s priority schools.

The district received $670,383.30 for the 2017-18 school year, and another $921,886.11 for the 2018-19 school year for its nine priority schools, but further priority school funding is not a guarantee with a new governor taking office soon.

But don’t fret Nashville, you’ll get an opportunity to spend more of your hard-earned priority school cash as well. The Nashville TFA contract is up for renewal soon. But perhaps, Nashville will have spent all its extra money bt then.

If you’ll remember, last month we gaven TNTP a half million dollars to provide professional development for teachers employed at priority schools. The school board approved this expenditure despite being told over the summer that not a single school was utilizing TNTP for PD. This month we’ve got another cash prize for TNTP.

VENDOR: Amplify Education, Inc.

SERVICE/GOODS (SOW): Amendment #2 to increase the total compensation by $434,601.72 to reach a new not-to-exceed amount of $595,326.52. Amplify Education, Inc. will provide Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) Classroom Kits and associated materials to MNPS Priority Schools.

Don’t be fooled by the name Amplify attached to this ask, TNTP is the vehicle being used to implement CKLA in metro schools. I plan to write more about this in the upcoming weeks, but the short version of the story is that we are investing this money in CKLA at the same time we are partnering with Florida State University and utilizing various MNPS schools to conduct an experiment on the effectiveness of CKLA. Which schools do you think are participating in this experiment? Have parents been fully briefed on the pending experiment? You would think such a high profile undertaking would be all over the MNPS website, but if you thought that you’d be wrong.

Education historian David Labaree has written an excellent piece on public education and its transition from a “public good” to a “private benefit”. The point that drives things home for me is the following:

All but gone is the assumption that the purpose of schooling is to benefit the community at large. Less and less often do Americans conceive of education as a cooperative effort in nation-building or a collective investment in workforce development. Increasingly, rather, school comes to be viewed as an intense competition among individuals to get ahead in society and avoid being left behind. It has begun to look, to a great extent, like a means of creating winners and losers in the pursuit of academic merit, with the results determining who becomes winners and losers in life.

Do you know what MNPS school board member is heading up what committee? I know it’s only November but I’ve yet to see an announcement.

Overton Model UN Delegate Conference is this weekend! We want to wish this great group much success!!! 5 teams and 3 officers!!

Dr. Kellie Hargis, Principal of Hume-Fogg HS and Mrs. Cathy Parsons, English Teacher, accepted the National Blue Ribbon Award from the US Department of Education this week. Congratulations to the entire Hume-Fogg community for your commitment to excellence!

Here’s some good news to share. MNPS, as a direct result of the decision to pay for tests, has increased the number of students taking advanced AP classes.

“Prior to last year, we didn’t ask students to take advanced academic tests because we couldn’t ask them to pay. Or they would opt out due to the cost,” said Laura-Lee Morin, Metro Nashville Public Schools advanced academics director.

“When we removed the cost barrier … we had some minor attrition from those classes at the beginning of the year, but the ones that stayed throughout the year participated and that resulted in a huge increase.”

This is a huge deal. Even though the number of students earning college credits didn’t increase – students earn credits by scoring a 3 or above – the number of students did not fall back. Some people may choose to focus on the results of those taking the test, but granting access is an important first step. This one deserves to be bragged on.

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.

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TEACHER IMPACT COMES IN MANY FORMS

“If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn’t sit for a month.”
Theodore Roosevelt

“Everybody gets a tag. If you listen to a Velvet Underground record, you don’t think, ‘Godfathers of Punk.’ You just think, ‘This sounds great.’ The tags are there in order to help try to sell something by giving it a name that’s going to stick in somebody’s memory. But it doesn’t describe it. So ‘depressing’ isn’t a word I would use to describe my music. But there is some sadness in it — there has to be so that the happiness in it will matter.”
Elliott Smith

As of late, I’ve spent a fair amount of time ruminating on the teachers I had growing up. I was fortunate enough as a kid to attend a number of very different schools. My father was military and so I attended an urban school in Texas, schools on bases in Colorado and Germany, and a rural school in Pennsylvania. At all those schools there were teachers that left a mark, and some not so much.

There was Mr. VonHendy in third grade. He was in his early thirties and the epitome of cool in that 70’s beard and turtleneck manner. He was fun to cut up with, dated the attractive social studies teacher, and we all wanted to be like him. In 5th grade, it was Mr. Anthony, a large man who was the opposite of Mr. VonHendy, but he knew all kinds of cool stuff and would show you how to use the encyclopedia to find out even more cool stuff if you asked.

In Junior High school I had an English teacher, whose name escapes me at the moment, that brought the classics to life for me. Since I was in trouble so much in her class, she’d probably be shocked to learn that I credit her with my appreciation of those said tomes. She taught me not to get hung on the language of Shakespeare, Hawthorne, or Dickens, and to instead focus on the themes which have proven universal. She might have scared me a bit, but thanks to her the fear of heavy reading left me. She also inspired my love of the Romantic poets by drawing the parallels between Byron and Doors vocalist Jim Morrison, Shelly and deceased Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones.

There was Herr Paultz my German teacher I loved to spar with. “Weber, you are good at walking on the fence”, he was fond of saying, “But someday you will fall off.” Oh, if he only knew. We might not have bonded but I certainly learned a lot from him.

Ms. Whitock was my drama teacher who pushed me to realize my potential, taught me the value of hard work, and scared the living bejebees out of me. Not to mention that I thought she might be a little crazy.

Mr. Denis, as I’ve mentioned in the past, was sarcastic and biting, but taught me lessons about environmental science that are still relevant today.

Mr. Melinkoff was a diminutive teacher of social studies who brought Russia to life for a bunch of High Schoolers. Mr. Below taught high school English and was a member of our church, maybe the nicest teacher I ever had. Both approached their subject with a difference in temperament, but a shared passion.

There were some bad ones as well. My high school soccer coach for three years, who spent the majority of that time telling me how the kid at a neighboring school was so much better than me because of his work ethic. He got so mad at me one time for letting a goal go through, that he kicked a medicine cabinet all the way down the sideline berating me the whole time. Truth is, he’s been a major influence on my coaching style. He showed me the wrong way to do things, and I avoid making those mistakes with my son’s teams.

These days, I read social media posts and articles where so much is said about the need for teachers to love their students. I find myself wondering, did any of those aforementioned teachers love me? To be honest, I don’t think so. I’m not even sure all of them liked me, and I am sure I was a source of major frustration to many of them. But loving me wasn’t their job. They had something more important than love for me, they had a love of teaching and a love of their subject matter that they wanted to pass on.

In the 90’s I found myself in need of legal representation. I hired an attorney with a flawless reputation. After telling him my tale over the phone, I asked him if I needed to come by the office.

“Will it make you feel better?” was his reply.

I got the message. Was I looking for a friend or was I looking for a lawyer? I chose the latter and never regretted it.

My teachers in school were cut from that cloth. They had a job to do and they were passionate about it. No matter what the subject was, I could feel those teachers excitement in exposing me to it. To this day I don’t pay attention to news about Russia because Mr. Melinkoff asked about my feelings but rather because of the feelings I got when he described being in the streets of Moscow to me. It all about the passion for learning as opposed to the passion for me.

That’s the lens that I look at the recent Social and Emotional Learning movement through. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in the importance of sensitivity, empathy, and treating all with respect. But I think that’s all part of just being a decent person. Do we really need to invest millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in professional development to ensure that teachers are dealing with kids by being decent people? Shouldn’t we assume that the vast majority already are?

Think about this for a moment. Why do most teachers go into teaching? Financial reward? Looking for a low-stress job? Fame? Summers off? It’s none of those. By and large, it is a desire to be of service in preparing young people for adulthood. Odds are, if you are not sensitive, empathetic, or compassionate, you won’t be drawn towards the teaching profession. Odds are you wouldn’t take on gobs of student loan debt in order to pursue a degree that would enable you to practice a profession in which you’ll earn one-third of what your peers do if you didn’t already have the basic SEL tenets down.  It’s like taking a student right out of the seminary, hiring them at your church, and then enrolling them in classes proving the existence of God.

The building of relationships is huge, and obviously, I formed strong ones with some of my teachers, but authenticity is so important in forging lasting relationships. I see all the memes about teachers being positive, and charged up, and always energetic. That’s exhausting and just unsustainable. That’s also not a realistic mindset to model for kids that are just trying to get through life under some horrible circumstances.

Kids get it. Some days suck and seeing your teacher react to a tough day and persevere can be powerful. Especially if they are doing it in a manner that appears authentic and not some manufactured public display. It’s empowering to know that you can have days where you are just not feeling it, and tomorrow will be better.

Not every teacher practices SEL in a manner that looks identical, nor should they. There are a lot of kids to reach and a lot of different means to reach them. Let’s empower teachers innate abilities as opposed to creating some cookie cutter model that in the long run is not going to prove any more effective.

I just can’t buy into the narrative that there is a large number of teacher lollygagging around the teachers’ lounge talking about how dumb their charges are and how much they can’t stand them. Those people tend to get naturally weeded out and discover that there are a lot of easier ways to make 43K a year.

I’m not saying every teacher is spectacular but before we go devaluing them, let’s try paying them a solid salary, provide adequate resources, and allow them to utilize the inherent skills they have worked hard to develop. We used to kind of do that. I acknowledge that my generation has made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve done alright at keeping this country afloat and moving forward through some turbulent times. The last 30 years have seen some transformative social change and huge growth in technology. It would seem that our primary education has served us well.

One quick side note. I do find it amusing that there is a STEAM initiative due to the supposed need for people in related industries. But who’s getting the big money? Why those with Liberal Arts degrees of course. But are we rushing off to increase Liberal Arts programming?

Getting back on track, we think we understand the real impact of teachers but I question whether we really do or not. If we did would we be continually overloading them with initiatives that make it harder for them to fulfill their true mission? If we understood their true value would we continue to ignore their input?

District administrators like to take marginal results, be it test results, survey answers or otherwise, and offer them as signs that district policy is working. But how do we know that? How much of those results are the by-product of a teacher using their god given talents and skills to make damn sure that as many kids as possible make progress? How do you differentiate between growth that transpires due to policy and that which transpires due to teachers being willing to climb over glass shards to serve their kids? Have you ever met a teacher that says, “yea, that policy doesn’t work so we are just going to let it fail?” I haven’t. It is because most care that deeply.

Right now you are probably thinking, “All right TC, this is all mildly interesting, but what’s your point? What are you trying to say.”

I guess my point in all of this is, that if are going to have really great teachers we have to quit adding to their plate and start trusting that they are the experts in their field. We have to quit tightening the definition of quality teacher and start realizing that quality teachers come in all shapes and sizes. We have to recognize that some need more professional development and managing more than others. Differentiated management is every bit as important as differentiated learning. In other words, we need to free the inherent passion in education instead of continually trying to condense it into a prescribed look.

Maybe what I’m trying to say, is let’s try a little more substance and a lot less style.

QUICK HITS

In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, H.G. Hill Middle School teachers and students will be participating in the Rise Against Hunger project. Volunteers are needed to help package meals. You can sign up to volunteer or learn more about the project here.

Tomorrow Metro Council meets at 5 to discuss and then vote on the funding for a new building for the Nashville School of the Arts. The old building has become completely inadequate, thus the importance of this initiative. It was 10 years ago that a new building was initially proposed, the time is now to get things moving. Please call your councilman and tell them this needs to get done.

Some new interesting artwork has begun to pop up around the district. I’m curious to see just how far it spreads. Thinking of making up and selling t-shirts.

The MAP testing window opens up this week for kids in grades 2-9. Parents were not officially notified, but accommodations have been returned to all EL and Special Needs kids. These accommodations – read-a-loud text – though outlined in individual IEPs and available through the MAP platform were not provided during testing at the beginning of the year. Please keep in mind this will have an impact on scores this go around and any future conversations on growth should recognize this variant.

Election day is tomorrow. If you haven’t voted yet, please make plans to do so. I’d like to go ahead and put one more unabashed plugin for Bob Freeman if I may. He’s run a fantastic campaign. One that illustrates exactly what he’ll bring to the job.

In some ways though,  I’m kind of disappointed that the election is coming to an end because that means no more comically unhinged attack fliers directed at Bob. He must have scared somebody because I’ve gotten at least a flier a day for the last 10 days, and I’ve already voted. Rest assured that none of the attacks are rooted in fact. Bob will make a great state representative, but only if you do your part and vote for him.

“He’s a very charismatic, very forceful person,” says at-large Metro Council member David Briley, “We’ve invested a lot of money in our schools over the last few years, and none of us wants to see that money wasted because we were afraid to make some changes.” Who was he referring to when he made that statement and I wonder if he remembers making it?

We talk a lot about the importance of having a person that looks like the majority of the children in MNPS as a director, but there is one glass ceiling that has yet to be broken. MNPS has had two men of color in the last 20 years but never a woman. Carol Johnson was the school boards initial choice before Pedro Garcia was hired. The official story is that Johnson was offered the job, negotiated a $30k raise, and then turned it down; electing to stay in Minneapolis. The unofficial story has always been that she was pressured to decline by board members who at the time would have preferred a man. It’s a bit shameful that an organization predominately made up of women has never had a woman at its head. Oh well, one glass ceiling at a time.

Croft Middle School is planning to do some tree planting in two weeks and they’d appreciate your help.

As part of their Veterans Day activism, J.T. Moore Middle School students are collecting items for care packages to send to troops overseas. Deadline for donations is Nov. 15. Packages will be mailed on Nov. 16. Please help by dropping items in the front office. – at J. T. Moore Middle School

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a look at the results from the weekend polls.

The first question asked for your opinion on the new charter collaborative. 39% of you answered, “here we go again”. 25% of you were unclear on the need it was addressing. 3% of you felt that the collaborative would provide a fresh voice in the conversation. Here are the write-in answers:

Negative 1
Worried 1
Does it really matter? We little people have no control. 1
Power in numbers 1
Why are they not collaborating with MNPS teachers it’s well? 1
When can we focus on retaining the quality teachers still left? 1
More money wasted!! Why can not the office of charter schools handle it? 1
organizing the opposition 1
Can’t believe it’s even a thing. 1
Joseph is luring Gini Walker to his side and sadly it appears to be working

The second question asked for your thoughts on the recent action taken by TSSAA over an altercation that transpired at an Antioch/Overton football game. 30% of you felt that it was appropriate, with 22% of you recognizing the need to take decisive action.

This incident is the root for some of my recent thoughts on SEL. As an athlete in High Schools, such an altercation would have never been tolerated. It was drilled in us right from the start that as an athlete I represented first myself, then my team, and lastly my school. That tenet was every bit as important as winning. The incident between Overton/Antioch was not an outlier. Over the last several years there have been more on-field fights than anyone would like to admit. It makes me question what guidance is being provided to these athletes. Here are the write-in votes:

Consequences are needed but these may punish more students that are not involved 1
they are not trying to keep suspensions down, good! 1
Why only “unfairly punishes Overton”? 1
Probably an adult issue that’s impacting students

The last question asked about the climate surveys that were just recently completed by teachers. The district has increased the importance of those surveys and as a result, there have been rumblings of administrators attempting to influence results. 42% of you responded that principals had merely pushed the completion of results at a greater frequency. 15% of you responded that it was business as usual. Here are the write-ins:

They know of it? 1
None. The results will be made public, and what bad principal wants that? 1
Email everyday 1
Lots but no suggested answers 1
Hmmmm 1
principals pressured to get teachers to complete 1
They are watching as we fill them out 1
We were directed to do it. So we did it. 1
Tons. Culture is horrid. If things stay status quo, most vets will leave soon. 1
Afraid of Dr Coverson.Someone help us! get him out 1

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. Peace out.