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PLAYING WHACK A MOLE WITH SCANDALS

“Because of the movies I make, people get nervous, because they think of me as difficult and angry. I am difficult and angry, but they don’t expect a sense of humor. And the only thing that gets me through is a sense of humor.”
Martin Scorsese

“No wonder kids grow up crazy. A cat’s cradle is nothing but a bunch of X’s between somebody’s hands, and little kids look and look and look at all those X’s . . .”
“And?”
“No damn cat, and no damn cradle.”
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle

 

I’ve been writing a blog on education for over 5 years now and I don’t believe I have ever seen a week like the last week. The media stories came from every direction, between News Channel 5 reporting on questionable financial practices, a Tennessean report on an audit that was rejected by the Metro Audit committee because of lingering questions, Channel 2 reporting on the pulling of SRO’s from two of the districts more difficult schools, Channel 5 back again with a story about the HR audit that was embargoed and then leaked, Channel 17 reporting on low bus driver salaries, and finally rumors of yet another pending lawsuit by an administrator against the district, the week was packed from front to back. District leaders had to feel like pinjatas.

To make matters worse the state dusted off an old trope and released a study showing just how little high schools across the state were doing in preparing kids for college. The database released by the TNDOE painted MNPS once again in an unfavorable light. To be fair, the whole remedial classes hustle by colleges has been addressed in the past, but in education circles, we continue to run in circles. Blogger and educator Peter Greene has outlined some possible reason for the rise in remedial classes in case you are interested,

1) Colleges are desperate to fill seats and as a result, accept underqualified students.

2) The college eligibility test, the one that determines who needs remediation, is not a good test.

3) Students need more remediation these days because more of the year is spent on test prep and testing instead of actual education.

4) Colleges are pushing maybe-not-necessary remediation because it makes them a whopping $1.5 billion each year.

If you look closely at the data behind the focus on college remediation courses, you’ll find our old friend TNTP. Now there is an organization that’s off to a fantastic start this year. From the brink of extinction to the center of the conversation.

But I digress, The point is that there was a lot of negative noise around MNPS this past week. Even Nashville Public Radio and the Tennessee Tribune got into the mix. The Trib article was their normal defense of Joseph but it ended with a couple head-scratching paragraphs.

In a political climate where Americans have lifted their voices in response to the racist and xenophobic rhetoric of Donald Trump by electing the most diverse cohort on Congressmen and women in the nation’s history, how will the people of Tennessee be viewed after running the first Black school superintendent out of office following months of comments about rap songs, black fraternities and threats of mask-wearing?

Shawn Joseph’s election to the office he holds is representative of a rapid change taking place both state, and nationwide. The Metro Nashville Public School District, the state of Tennessee, and America itself are becoming increasingly brown. If Tennesseans are unable to resist racist microaggressions the Volunteer state may be left frozen in it’s sinful, bigoted past.

I have to make a few corrections here. Dr. Joseph does not hold elected office. He’s not the first black superintendent in Tennessee. Bryan Johnson in Hamilton County, Eric Jones in Jackson County, Millard House III in Clarksville-Montgomery County Schools, and Joris Ray in Memphis are African-American males currently leading Tennessee school districts. House and Ray epitomize the term “servant leader” and are doing especially exemplary work. So I don’t think Shawn Joseph’s career fate will have any impact on the number of AA males becoming superintendents in Tennessee. And there is nothing to say the next director of schools for MNPS won’t be a person of color.

The biggest news story of the week seems to be centered around the recently released Bone-McCalister HR audit. The report was budgeted at 100k at upon receipt board chair Gentry promptly declared it privileged. Since this is Nashville, and everybody has two friends, within 24 hours pieces of the report were leaked and the whole report was publicly available within 48 hours. I still don’t understand why people think they can keep stuff secret. It always ends up out there and MNPS aways ends up back peddling. TIt did not help that the report was an unflattering one, such that perennial cheerleader the Tennessean was forced to write a critical article. Ouch, that’s got to hurt.

Interestingly enough, when the Tennessean asked Dr. Joseph about the audit he claimed he couldn’t offer comment because he hadn’t seen the report, he then proceeded to comment that the report showed MNPS was an underfunded district. Words that oddly echoed those of vice-chair Christiane Buggs who at Tuesday’s board meeting offered, “the more I read through what we’ve been given by Bone-McAlllester, it’s just that we are under-resourced…” A statement that I’d argue breaks privilege other than that nowhere in the Bone-McAllester report is it indicated that problems stem from a lack of resources.

Who leaked the report is a serious concern for both Buggs and Gentry. Gentry went as far as to imply that fellow board members had leaked the report to the media in an effort to “weaponize it to malign the reputation of the leader of this district during budget season.” This obsession with who leaked the report is indicative of an MNPS culture that always seems more focused on how people know about an issue as opposed to fixing the issue. A completely backward philosophy.

Gentry is fond of pointing out that each board member is but one of nine. As always though her words apply only to others and not herself. If reports are to be believed, two of those nine, Buggs and Gentry, took it upon themselves to visit the HR department with Dr. Joseph yesterday and delivered a pep talk, how is that appropriate and did the rest of the board endorse that pep talk? Is that common practice when it comes to a department that was just butchered in an audit after the board chair endorsed them publically? Imagine if Speering and Frogge visited HR to tell them that their names were numbered? A meeting with the department in question should have only taken place after a sign off from all board members.

That wasn’t enough though, as Gentry proceeded to email a missive out to the district whose central theme seemed to be that HR was terrible in 2016 and therefore we shouldn’t be surprised that it sucks in 2019 and with that reasoning, it’ll probably suck in 2021. I don’t understand who tells district leadership that these emails to the district are a good strategy. Half the people that get the emails never realized there were problems and the other half do nothing but laugh at the blatant cover-up strategy.

So right about now you probably think that Dr. Joseph is sitting in the back of his Tahoe burning up the midnight oil analyzing the HR audit. Not so much, he’s in LA – Los Angeles, not Lower Antioch – at the AASA National Conference presenting on engaging with student activism after Parkland. You can’t make this stuff up.

Here’s the thing, the noise around Dr. Joseph has reached a deafening level. To the point where it is sucking the air out of the room and starting to prevent other conversations from happening. People on both sides are driving tent stakes in the ground and setting up unbendable positions on his performance. People that would normally work together are lining up on opposite sides over racial divisions and sniping back and forth. I find myself at odds with people I’ve worked cooperatively with for years. One prominent African-American leader told me, “Dr. Joseph has turned this into an OJ moment.” That’s not a good place to be. Especially not at the beginning of budget season.

I don’t see a way forward that allows for Dr. Joseph to effectively lead this district. Over the last year, there were several opportunities for him to make adjustments and for whatever reasons those opportunities were not seized upon. Thus we find ourselves at this untenable position.

If you’ve ever managed people before you realize that this situation is not uncommon. Sometimes, it is through your own fault, and sometimes it is due to unforeseen circumstances. Whatever the reason, you just lose the crowd. People just decide that they are not going to follow you, effectively ending your reign as leader. Now you may limp on for a couple of months, or a year, but that is never healthy for either the individual nor the organization.

Regrettably, that’s where we are now and it’s time to do some forward thinking and look for a way to forge a way forward. I think the most important conversation we can have right now, is who will lead as interim director while we look for a long-term solution. It can’t be Chris Henson part tres.

I would argue for a woman this go around. The last three directors have supplied enough testosterone to last a couple of decades and since the teaching profession is made up predominately of women, it only makes sense. Nashville has never had a female director of schools before.

I would argue for an internal candidate. One who has a long history in MNPS and has forged strong relationships throughout the district. Over the last decade, we’ve ignored the fact that education is an endeavor based upon relationships. We’ve been willing to wait while a new director builds those relationships, only to have those directors fail to make relationship building a priority. Ideally, in my eyes, the best candidate would have lifelong relationships built up.

I would argue that the optimal candidate would have a deep understanding of the history of Nashville. Studying the last 25 years of MNPS history is like jumping on a hamster wheel. The optimal candidate would know where to break from history and will have learned from past lessons.

I think it’s essential to find a candidate that is at heart an educator. Sorry, but I just don’t believe that anyone on the current leadership team is an educator at heart. They are business people engaging in the business of education. I would argue that is the root cause for many of their missteps.

Some try to lay the directors failings at the feet of the school board and while I feel that they do bear some responsibility for Dr. Joseph’s failures, I don’t subscribe to the conscious efforts to paint the MNPS School Board as dysfunctional. It’s a narrative that I will continue t push back on. Calling the board dysfunctional is just another way of saying that they don’t do what you want them to do. They are a democratically elected body pulled from a very diverse city. They represent constituents with very different views and attitudes about education. Their first responsibility is to properly represent their constituents.

Some folks have raised the idea of an appointed board. Well first off, that’s a model that has not been successful anywhere in the country and secondly, who would do the appointing? The Mayor? Does he represent your views? Think about how much potential damage could be done with an appointed board where all members are reflective of the mayor’s sensibilities. In business most things can be corrected, in education, some things can not be undone without losing a generation.

The idea of everybody aligning behind a common vision is ludicrous. We can’t even come to a consensus on whether education is a public good or a private commodity. That’s the beauty of democracy, its just ineffective enough to keep us from whipping routinely from cliff to cliff.

That said, I do believe that we can be a bit more deliberate on who we elect to the board. A certain amount of understanding about how schools function should be required. Teachers should be allowed to sit on the board. Career politicians shouldn’t be welcomed. But that’s a conversation for a later day.

Today Nashville needs to figure out who is going to lead us out of this quagmire and how much damage we are going to allow before we let them lead us out. A protracted battle over individual incidents is going to do nothing but leave all of us bloodied and bruised. As I said earlier, education work demands trust and strong bonds. We should be working to strengthen those existing bonds instead of tearing at those already tenuous relations. This fight on its surface is about the direction of our schools, but make no mistake, ultimately it will influence how we interact as citzens, and what kind of city we will become.

SHORT TAKES

Congratulations to former Tennessee Teacher of the year and MNPS teacher, Cicely Woodard. The eighth-grade math educator in Franklin accepted the Member Benefits Award for Teaching Excellence from the NEA Foundation. The honor, which includes a $25,000 prize, was presented Friday at a gala in Washington, D.C. This award is kind of like the Heisman Award of Teaching.

While congratulations are certainly in order for Mrs. Woodard, wife of former Maplewood principal Ron Woodard, you have to ask how MNPS let her get away. Teachers of color are supposedly a priority for MNPS, additionally, Mr. and Mrs. Woodard are also products of Nashville Public Schools, still, despite a history of excellence for both, they are employed by neighboring districts. Retaining high quality homegrown talent should be a no-brainer. Tell you what, I’ll give Franklin School System two Sito Narcisses and a player to be named later if MNPS can have Cicely Woodard back.

After 3 days the Denver teacher strike is over. By all accounts, Denver teachers won. Former Denver School Board Member Jeanie Kaplan writes a piece about the substance of the strike that in my opinion is a must read for everyone. Especially if someone tries to sell you on the power of merit pay.

One of Dr. Joseph’s most ardent defenders, Rep Harold Love, now finds himself of being accused of illegally using campaign money to pay for dry cleaning, purchases at a jewelry store, trips to meetings and more than $13,000 in food and beverages. Two weeks ago, at the beginning of this year’s legislative session, Love was so incensed at certain MNPS board members questioning of Dr. Joseph on expenditures, that he was openly questioning them on the hill.

“We are seemingly having a problem with our school board,” Rep. Harold Love said at the meeting. Love’s niece, Christiane Buggs, is on the school board. “I have deep concerns about what’s going on down there. We don’t need our school board drawing any attention to themselves up here.”

Hmmm…maybe he should refocus?

McGavock Elementary School is hosting families for Bingo for Books on February 28th at 5:30 where everyone will receive books to take home! Do you like food, fun, and books? Of course, you do! The faculty and staff will see everyone on February 28th at 5:30 in the cafeteria!

Ruby Major Elementary School is very excited about the upcoming music and art show, to be held on Thursday, March 7. Ruby Major is also excited to have the Hermitage MNPD Precinct and the Donelson Hermitage Neighborhood Association partnering with the school.

Old Center Elementary School’s, “I Can’t Bear to Be Without a Book,” initiative allows students to record books read on their monthly reading logs. They are asked to read each night for fifteen minutes or more. Parents sign verifying their child’s participation. A beanstalk is displayed in the front hall indicating the number of participants each month. Old Center Elementary had over 230 students participating in the Reading Incentive Program during the month of January.

Granbery students are looking forward to some exciting events over the upcoming weeks. Auditions for “Granbery’s Idol” competition started the first week of February for an upcoming talent showcases and a competitive night with prizes. A hard-working team of teachers is volunteering their time to provide this show for students and parents. Two parents are well-known top 10 finalist in the “America Idol” competition and they are providing support. The third “Daughters of Granbery Dance” was well attended by girls and father figures on February 8th. The cafeteria was packed as the girls enjoyed sweet treats and showed off their dance moves.

Huge shout out to the Project Lit founders over at Maplewood HS. They found out yesterday that 13 of them had earned a full ride to Belmont University. Nicely done.

On Wednesday I published the directors self-evaluation. (2018-19 SJoseph Formative Self-Eval Evidence Companion FINAL 012919)If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to. I’d particularily like to draw your attention to his list of biggest accomplishments.

  • Kicked off the Motown partnership “Bonus Tracks” with Pearl-Cohn High School studen
  • Attendance improvements and launch of the attendance campaign in January 2019
  • Decreasing the number of discipline incidents
  • Narrowing our focus to the three key areas of literacy, attendance and reducing out of school suspensions
  • Changing the suspension procedure for prek-4th grade students
  • Hiring a qualified communications professional to lead Communications and Community Engagement strategy
  • Securing outside support to fund the expansion of CKLA implementation to more schools

I’ll let you rate those.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of a teacher of year announcements. 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. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

 

 

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WHO ARE WE HELPING?

“She believed in nothing. Only her scepticism kept her from being an atheist.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

“She could no longer borrow from the future to ease her present grief.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

One of the biggest honors in writing this blog is the ability to use it as a vehicle to allow teachers and families to  express their thoughts and feelings. Below is an email that I was copied on. It has been sent to all MNPS board members.

This year MNPS leadership made a move to change discipline policy throughout the district. Suspension, expulsion, and arrest, were no longer an option for k-4 grades except for level 5 offenses, and it has become much more difficult to suspend/expel older kids. As a general policy, I think the majority of people support the reduction of suspension rates. Nobody wants to see children removed from the classroom.

However, good policy without good execution and implementation does not lead to good results. I’ve written repeatedly about the lack of support MNPS has in place in order to make the new policy work.The argument in support of the policy change has been framed as a false equivalence. The only two options presented are suspending kids, which is painted as throwing them away or keeping kids in school with the supposition that supports and services will suddenly magically appear.

Neither of those two statements are true absolutes. Kids can be removed from a classroom and provided supports so that they can successfully re-enter class. Leaving kids in schools without proper supports just sets them up for future failures. Failures that often come at a time when stakes are the highest.

Supports for kids will not suddenly magically appear just because kids remain in a classroom. We have to demand that those supports be put into place. Part of that means being extra diligent on spending. I’m told putting trauma specialist in every school would run around a million dollars and we say we don’t have it. Yet two years ago we spent nearly a million dollars for an assessment platform that schools aren’t even using. Think about if that money had been re-purposed?

Our focus should be on keeping schools a safe place for ALL kids and getting kids the services they need in order that they have the best chance at success. Lowering suspension rates without lowering discipline issues does nothing but exacerbate a problem.

As a teacher wrote to me,

They only rolled out a part of the program without the consequences incorporated  We have failed to implement the accountability portion of restorative practice, where students would be required to make amends and pledge to make real changes in front of a school panel before re-entry into classroom after suspension. Writing a SEL goal on your board and spending 5 minutes discussing feelings does not help chronic offenders with conduct disorders.

We need youth counselors in each middle school, mentors as well. A youth counselor would take students aside and relieve teachers, then bring students back to their classroom. That would be a way to reduce office referrals

Knowing that fewer children are being removed from school rightfully gives adults the warm and fuzzies. But good policy shouldn’t be based on how it makes adults feel. Policy should be rooted in successfully addressing community needs. In talking to teachers and parents, I have become more and more convinced that the policy change made this year by MNPS does not sufficiently address our schools needs and as a result, is bad policy for kids.

Sadly, I also believe we are seeing echoes of this bad implementation of policy play out in our city as well. People are starting to pay closer attention to Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and her policies toward juvenile crime. Policies that do not appear to be working. Our kids are killing and dying across this city and at way too high a rate. We have to get this right.

So without any further ado,

Dear MNPS school board, I am a disgruntled parent. You may have seen my name from time to time as my husband has spoken and I have spoken up multiple times. I have 4 children at MNPS schools.

I am involved with both PTO’s, I am a substitute teacher (so I see how the school system works and what goes on 2-3 times per week), my children are active in the schools, and I am a MAJOR supporter of our public school system.

I am tired, as I am sure most of you are. We all want what is best for our children, other people’s children, and our school system. We want to succeed. We want our children to succeed. It is a scary world and we want our children to see a light and be a light. In my opinion, I believe that is ONE thing every single person on this email can agree on.

Lets put political stances, color of our skin, our past lives, and our personal lives aside. I want to take you on a field trip. This is a field trip through a school I absolutely love and support 100%. These students ( all of them I have had the pleasure to sub for) and teachers are my friends. I hear their hearts and listen to them every single time I am at our school.

From the perspective of a teacher. She or he wakes up (tired and weary), gets his/ her own children ready for school, gets in the car not knowing what today is going to look like. She/he walks into the school, opens the classroom door, and gets ready for the day to begin.

Is the boy going to be here today or not? Will I be able to get things done in my classroom today or not? Will I be able to use paint today to work on that project or not? Minutes pass by and that boy walks in. Teacher then realizes what her day is going to look like.

She prepares herself, puts a smile on her/his face, and greets each child with a heartfelt greeting. As the day goes on, the teacher has had to interrupt learning time 5-6 times to redirect the child. Said child runs around the room disturbing the class even more. The teacher grabs the child only to then be punched in the face and the back of the head. Not only that, the child then bites the teacher.

The teacher is clearly shaken up and calls the office to be told that she needs to go get a tetanus shot. The classroom then has to be split up amongst the other classes. Learning time is now disrupted for each 2nd grade classroom.

From the perspective of a child…

The child barely slept last night because he/she didn’t know where his/her parents were. That’s okay. The child is about to get on the bus and go to a place that actually cares. The child will get a warm breakfast and feel safe…for at least 7-8 hours today.

The child gets in the classroom and notices that the child that causes lots of issues is there. “Dangit. He makes my teacher speak loudly and get angry. This is the only part of the day where anyone speaks nicely to me, ” the child thinks.

The child does as he/she is told and, like always, classroom time is interrupted many times with the teacher redirecting the other child. Finally, the teacher gets up and grabs the child to put him/her back in their seat and all of a sudden the teacher has tears and is screaming for help.

The other child has hurt your teacher by punching her and biting her. You don’t know what to do. You do know that you want to cry because you love your teacher and she is the only person who hugs you every day.

The teacher then has to leave and you get thrown into another classroom with kids you don’t know that well with someone who hasn’t earned your trust. A safe place has now turned into a scary place.

When is enough going to be enough? There are students in multiple classrooms with these kinds of behavioral issues. I have seen blood be drawn. I have seen chairs thrown. I was actually held down on the floor one day by the same child who punched and bit. There is always an excuse.

We can NOT excuse poor behavior. We just can’t. There are other students watching. They are constantly learning. Something has to be done with foul language (there needs to be a punishment). And something has to be done with assaulting a teacher. A teacher should NOT be scared of a student. This should be ZERO tolerance and the child should automatically be expelled. PLEASE wake up. Please hear the cries from your teachers. Please hear the cries from the parents. Please hear the cries from the other children. I genuinely thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Dad Gone Wild is always here to support teachers, parents, and students. In that role we welcome any submissions. Drop me an email at norinrad10.com. Thank you for your support.

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PARENTING TO THE PEANUT GALLERY

“What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accomodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damn fool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.”
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses

“Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education. What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book. You must fill in the colors yourself.”
Louis L’Amour

 

Over the last decade, I’ve discovered that parenting is an odd beast. Everybody has a different strategy, and outcomes often vary over interpretations never anticipated. I find myself in a place of contradiction o a fairly regular basis.

When the kids were two and three, I was so impressed with myself because I’d drilled into their head that if you fail at something, you had to get back up and do again right away and they’d embraced the edict. Clapping my self on the back, I said, “Self, you are brilliant, You are instilling grit in these kids!” That was until my daughter marched herself right back up to a high perch after just falling, and narrowly avoiding injury.

I ran towards her wildly waving my arms, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, where are you going. You almost got seriously hurt. Didn’t you learn anything?”

She looked at me earnestly and replied, “But you always said, if we fall we have to get right back up again.” Oops, maybe there are some instances where my edicts should be challenged.

It was in that moment that I realized that I had been parenting to the peanut gallery. I wasn’t paying attention to her needs and what was best for her – analyzing strategies and making changes where necessary – I was parenting to impress others. I wanted them to look at me and see just how together I was. I wanted you to think I was cruising at this parenting, not the reality, that I was, and still am, hanging on for dear life.

I wanted you to say,

“Look how he’s instilling these solid beliefs in his children.”

“Look how bold and serious he is.”

“He never seems to waver in his knowledge of what is best for his children.”

“By God, he’s a good dad.”

The truth is, I have no idea what I am doing half the time. The onset of puberty by my eldest has probably dropped that ratio to a third. At some point though, I’ve lost focus on what you think of my parenting job and have instead been forced to focus on what my kids need. I’ve become willing to look the fool if it means I’m delivering for them. I’ve learned to let them be angry at me if I think it’ll get them something they need.

My wife and I try to stay consistently on the same page – after all, that’s what all the experts say is important – but there are times that I may be speaking too harshly to the kids or going to easy on them, and she’ll jump in and alter my approach. Admittedly, I’m usually not appreciative, it’s hard to be corrected at the moment, but usually, it’s the right advice at the right time and my feelings are secondary to doing right by the kids.

When it’s not the right move, we discuss it later and make adjustments. It’s important for my kids to get a consistent message, but more important is the message that people who love each other can disagree and still love each other. The other important message is that Daddy is not all-knowing and sometimes he gets it wrong, the important thing is not to be so afraid of how you look that you fail to do the right thing when it’s offered to you.

These are the thoughts that went through my head as I watched last night’s Metro Nashville Public Schools board meeting play out. After the board opened the floor for comments on the recently completed audit/investigation by the Metro Government audit department, board member Amy Frogge read in a dispassionate voice a long list on transgressions that included several instances of laws being broken and board policy not adhered to. All of the charges included extensive supporting documentation.

At the end of her speech, comments from fellow board members focused not on fixing the problems of financial fidelity, but rather how the board could avoid continuing to be viewed as dysfunctional. There was little concern expressed about addressing an apparent inability to follow procedure and protecting taxpayer investment. Instead, the impetus was clearly on cleaning up the board’s image so that they could procure more of that taxpayer money.

It should be noted as well that board member Will Pinkston chose the beginning of Frogge’s speech to exit the meeting. He continually refuses to be present when the most important board conversations are taking place.

The overwhelming theme of this board and administration over the last 3 years has been one of focusing on how people knew about problems, instead of actually tackling those problems. Name me one instance where a problem has been acknowledged, a wrong step taken, and a corrective action offered.

Earlier in the day, a report on HR issues was delivered from the law firm Bone Mcallister. The report when commissioned was announced with great fanfare. Per Dr. Joseph,

“We are not doing an investigation,” Joseph said. “We are looking at processes … We are looking at cases completed — if they were done appropriately, the best practices and a look over policies.”

Hmmm…the processes must have not been very good because upon receiving the delivered report, Board Chair declared the findings privileged and not subject to open record requests. That action comes on the heels of Dr. Gentry delivering a soliloquy on the board floor about our inability to move on from the discussion of HR failings and offering that numerous attorneys had informed the board that HR leaders had done nothing wrong. Apparently, that’s not the findings of the lawyers at Bone McCallister discovered. If they had, I guarantee this embargo wouldn’t be in place.

Once again, the impetus is on appearance. and not on acknowledging and offering corrective steps. Board vice-chair Buggs stated that she is solution driven and so she wanted to know what the next step was. In AA we like to say, you can’t fix a problem until you acknowledge you have a problem. Are we supposed to believe that the administration will address issues without the watchful eyes of the public when they refuse to even take the first step of acknowledgment?

Evidence in that department is slim. Last June the metro auditor delivered a report that was inclusive but came with but two recommendations.

  1. Determine if the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education could benefit from a cost accounting report that separates central office costs from other district costs.
  2. While still complying with existing Tennessee Department of Education reporting requirements, if the cost accounting report in “1.” above is determined to be a benefit, define central office expenditures and determine if the ongoing Oracle R12.2 Enterprise Business Suite implementation project could facilitate budgeting and tracking of central office versus centralized services costs.

That audit was delivered nearly nine months ago, but during budget talks this year, if the mayor asks about what steps have been taken to address those issues, what do you think the answer will be?

As a parent, I care not a whit about winning parent of the year or how you perceive my parenting. My sole focus is on my kids and how they are doing – physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually. In evaluating their state, I’m rigorously honest. There is too much at stake not to be. The MNPS board needs to take a similar approach.

The MNPS board has to stop conducting business like they are the end product and shift their focus to ensuring kids are getting what they need. That’s not currently happening by any measure. Board members have put more of a focus on civility and their relationships with each other than they have on, teachers needs, student discipline, a curriculum that actually delivers, safety of teachers and students, and actual student achievement.

Discussion are focused on how actions make adults appear not on producing desired results for kids. “Yea us, we are social warriors who have reduced suspensions.”

No discussion what so ever on whether schools are actually safer and whether we are ensuring an environment where all kids can can effectively learn.

“Yea us, we are growing at a rate faster than the state.” No further discussion on kids actual achievement levels and whether he are adequately supporting teachers in a manner that will produce the best outcomes.

The focus has got to leave the boardroom and shift to where it belongs, the classroom.

Last week Dr. Joseph produced his self evaluation. I leave it here for you to read and evaluate. I’ll comment on Friday.

2018-19 SJoseph Formative Self-Eval Evidence Companion FINAL 012919

Last year, Scott Bennet, a long-term and highly recognized MNPS educator moved with his family to South Africa. I’d like to leave you with his words after being gone for a year.

ITS BEEN A YEAR

Back when I taught middle school an older community member came to my class every week and gave us one hour of his time. At first I was confused to why he wanted to help, but he told me he only wanted to be useful. After a couple weeks we found a rhythm. He would come in without expectations. He would read to kids in the library. He would review an assignment someone had missed. He would shelve books. He would photocopy. He would sort papers. He would tell students about his work. He would listen to the stories of their lives without judgment. He never asked for anything. He never said the work was beneath his pay grade. He was solely interested in showing up every week and doing what he could with that one hour regardless of how small the effort seemed. Every week for the entire school year, maybe 35 hours total, he was present. I’ll never forget how much that meant to me and to the students he worked with. It was a powerful reminder of the impact that the consistency of purpose can have.

It’s been a year. I deeply miss the kids and my co-workers and the energy we created in that yellow classroom looking out over the trees and traffic of Green Hills. It’s been another year and still the high school kids report at 6:50AM. I’m sure the buses still drop kids off to locked front doors at 6:25AM. It’s been another year and still metro teachers don’t have any form of maternity leave (besides sick days) or even a plan for bettering compensation. Another year of rising housing and healthcare costs. It’s been another year of nickel and diming teachers, prohibiting the use of online fundraisers and removing tax exemptions for classroom supplies. It’s been another year of sexual harassment lawsuits brought against central office and schools. It’s been another year of HR bumbling and school board infighting. It’s been another year, and yet again I think I was present at more board meetings than one of the board members. It’s been another year of half-truths and (while maybe not illegal) unethical behavior from the director.

I’d like to hear from my teacher friends back home that nothing’s changed since we left. But that’s not true. A year later and teachers and students are worse off. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still great work being done, but it’s a result of the sacrifices and the Herculean efforts of amazing people in-spite of the hurdles and problems created by central office and the board. I wish I could say that metro schools are a place I would like to return to, a place where I would like to enroll my kids and to work and grow as a professional. But that’s simply not the case right now. Besides the family of teachers and school administrators I know and respect, there is nothing attractive about the prospect of working there again. Based on the teacher turnover and vacancies, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Three years ago I felt that the district wasn’t moving, a rudderless ship. Now I can see it’s moving in the wrong direction. And as a teacher, a parent, a tax payer, and a voter, I don’t know which is more infuriating. It’s been a year. 

The people who supported me and helped me grow as a teacher and human being.

“Over the last two hundred years there has been a great improvement in personal and public hygiene and cleanliness; and this was largely brought about by persuading people that the results of being dirty and apathetic in the face of disease were not acts of God, but preventable acts of nature; not the sheer misery in things, but the controllable mechanisms of life.

We have had the first, the physical, phase of the hygienic revolution; it is time we went to the barricades for the second, the mental. Not doing good when you usefully could is not immoral; it is going about with excrement on your hands.” – John Fowles, The Aristos.

I look at these pictures and think about what public education could be, what it should be. Not for I.B. or magnet or charter kids. For all kids. I’m only a day’s travel away from where I taught, but I feel so far removed from the struggles that my teacher friends still endure. I don’t want to, but I still find myself reading the blogs and newspaper articles and the tweets. I still text with teachers and students trying to support and empathize. The reality is that a year later I’m still overly invested in the work of that community like some sort of co-dependant ex-boyfriend. It’s a manifestation of survivor’s guilt I think.

So here is my request. If you have the means, please consider loving on a classroom or a teacher or a kid for the rest of this year. Say thank you by giving a little of your time or a few of your resources or even your attention to the needs of our teachers and students. Choose to donate a book, new or used, each week to a class library, buy a pack of copy paper or tissues or hand sanitizer when you are grocery shopping, or offer to volunteer at games or concerts or arts events. Reach out to specific teachers at your school and ask what they need. One hour a week, one book a month, listen to one student story at a time. As a species we seem to like the myth that big efforts lead to big results. But that’s not how lasting changes happens. I can’t run a marathon because of one good workout. Small efforts over extended periods of time result in big changes. Want to get fit? Don’t go to the gym for eight hours. Go for 20 minutes every day. Want to write a book? Don’t aim for 85,000 words in a week, write a good paragraph every morning for a year. Want to change education? Invest your time and energy in one kid, in one classroom teacher, in one school consistently and repetitively.

Books collected by Hillsboro students and families delivered to the Meetsi Primary School in Mamelodi, South Africa.

This is the only answer I have to frustration that comes from paying attention. In between the distracting news stories, I’m putting my head down and continuing to work where I am. I know that a year from now the board will be the same. The director will probably get a contract extension. Salaries will remain the stagnant. But I also know that those kids you read to, those books you donate, those teachers you support will be better off because of your small commitment to change. Be good and keep in touch.

Posted in Uncategorized

THE IMPORTANCE OF AN INDEPENDENT SCHOOL BOARD

“A man of principles,” Jesse said.

“People say that about themselves when really they only want to make you unhappy.”
Ron Hansen, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

“Emmeline seemed to lie the way all narcissists do. Whatever they say, regardless of its absurdity, becomes the truth.”
James Lee Burke, Robicheaux

This past week I was reading Zack Barnes’s Tip Sheet. He was sharing the Tweets that went back and forth between MNPS School Board members Will Pinkston and Amy Frogge. The last was from Pinkston and said,

Pinkston: My project speaks for itself and it’s rooted in fact. Your current campaign against Nashville’s school superintendent has nothing to do with Race to the Botton and ultimately will be decided by the school board, with input from the mayor and the council. I still respect you

The comment struck me as extremely odd, not because of the offering of respect but rather the assertion that the mayor and the council would have such a weighted say in the tenure of the school superintendent. Why? Why do they get more of a say then the families who send their kids to MNPS? Why do they get more of a say then the teachers who work in those schools every day? Why is the decision not solely on the elected board of education as intended?

The next day I read a piece by JC Bowman that got my mind spinning even more. In it, Bowman talks about the Mayor interceding into school board issues and forming advisory groups made up of unelected officials. In the wake of Mayor Briley forming a kitchen cabinet to tackle priority schools, Bowman asks,

If the Mayor of Nashville feels that the trained professionals at the Metro Nashville Public Schools and the elected School Board cannot address the issues of the lowest-performing schools in the district, why does he think the unelected “Kitchen Cabinet” he selected can do a better job?  What can these nonprofit leaders and community advocates accomplish that professional educators in the MNPS system are not already doing?  And why are those “leaders and advocates” not already doing it?   Honestly, I think it is insulting.

I can’t say I disagree and I think it needs to go further. Why is the Mayor even weighing in on Priority SchoolS? What will he do with his findings? The Mayor is no more in charge of MNPS then I am. If we adhere to the design of the city’s charter, he should have no more say in whether Shawn Joseph stays or goes then any other citizen of Nashville.

Imagine if Sharon Gentry, as head of the school board, were to announce that she was putting together a committee made up of councilmen, members of the Mayor’s staff, police officers, school personnel, and parents, to study juvenile crime. How do you think Mayor Briley would receive her suggestions?

Probably about the same way that Dr. Joseph will receive Mayor Briley’s Kitchen Cabinets suggestions; lots of smiles, heaps of praise, and then off to the dust bin. The point is, we have separate elected bodies for a reason. A look at the history of Nashville’s School System and the involvement levels of past mayors illustrates Nashvillian’s desire to have a separation between the two governing bodies hasn’t always been honored. Let’s take a brief look at some of the history of MNPS.

Per a blog post by the Nashville Library we find out that even though Nashville had some schools and academies in existence by 1850, it was still deemed necessary for Nashville to have a public school system to help educate more than just the children of wealthier families. The first steps for the town of Nashville to have this sort of system occurred successfully on February 20th, 1852, when the Nashville Board of Alderman passed an act “to Raise Revenue for a Public School.” And soon after that, on October 14th, 1853, the City Council elected the first school board, which consisted of:

  • Francis B. Fogg (elected as President)
  • W.K. Bowling
  • R.J. Meigs
  • Allen A. Hall
  • John A. McEwen (elected as Secretary)
  • Alfred Hume (passed away on Oct. 29th, 1853 – succeeded by W.F. Bang on Nov. 26th, 1853)

Even though this was essentially a board appointed by the city council, I have a feeling they probably found themselves in trouble with the Mayor almost immediately. Joshua F. Pearl was selected as the first Superintendent of Schools. The first woman on the school board was Mrs. John Hill Eakin.

(The following links are courtesy of the Tennessee Electronic Library. When accessing, if you just hit the red listing of Tenn Elec Library on upper right it will take you to the main page. Hit Tennessean until 2002 and you’ll be able to access links. You should only have to do it with the first link, after that you’ll be signed in. It’s a little work, but worth it.)

Fast forward to 1963. Nashville consolidated with Davidson County and became a Metropolitan government ruled by a city charter that was adopted that year. A charter that clearly outlines the responsibilities of the Nashville School Board,

The board is authorized to do all things necessary or proper for the establishment, operation and maintenance of an efficient and accredited consolidated school system for the metropolitan government, not inconsistent with this Charter or with general law, including but not limited to the following actions, all to be taken after receiving the recommendations thereon of the director of schools: The employment and fixing of the compensation of all persons necessary for the proper conduct of the public schools; the maintenance and preservation of school property, the management and safeguarding of school funds; the acquisition of school sites; the erection, maintenance and improvement of school buildings and additions thereto; the purchase of school equipment, furniture, apparatus, supplies and the like; the provision of group insurance of not less than five hundred dollars ($500.00) each on its employees and teachers; and the promulgation of plans, rules and regulations for the administration, operation and maintenance of a public school system.

Current mayor David Briley’s grandfather Beverly Briley as Mayor oversaw the consolidation of Nashville’s government and the formation of a new school board. Ironically, when Briley ran against former mayor Ben West, the then-director of schools, Dr. John Harris, was a central issue. Both of Briley’s foes indicated that if they were elected Harris would be dismissed. Briley, in contrast, defended Harris by stating,

I know how he feels for I have been smutted and smeared. That’s all right for me for I am in politics and I have come to expect it even though it is unfair and untrue. But it is going to far to make a dedicated educator the victim of such a vile campaign.”

Throughout the election, while his opponents attacked the school system and made claims that an independent school board was impossible, Briley stuck to his beliefs and vowed that as long as he was mayor the school board would operate as an independent entity from the mayors’ office. It’s safe to say that since Briley won that election, and served with distinction for many years, school board autonomy should be considered a cornerstone of Nashville’s city charter.

In November of 1980 an amendment to make the school board an elected entity appeared on the ballot. Then-mayor Richard Fulton opposed the idea because he feared that it would lead to under-representation of women and minorities. One look at today’s board shows those fears as being unfounded. Lucky for us the amendment passed.

In 1990, then-Mayor Bill Boner tried to get the school board some more cash – the hunt for cash is a prevalent theme throughout Nashville’s public school history – with a proposed sales tax increase. The MNPS school board, however, said, “no thank you”, voting 8-1 to reject the mayor’s proposal. Imagine today’s board taking such an action. In an unprecedented move that year, Boner also attempted to tell the school board how to spend their budget allotment from the city budget. It should be noted that Boner had to cut the school budget in 1991 and in 1992 teachers came demanding a 4% raise. The more things change the more they stay the same.

In 1997, then-mayor Phil Bredesen began pushing the boundaries of mayoral influence by demanding that the school board implement a curriculum of his choosing. Due to the fact that he was tying funding to adoption, there was much concern at the time that the independence of the school board was under attack and that Bredesen was ignoring the mandate of voters in 1980 who voted to replace an appointed board with a democratically elected one. In the end, Bredesen got his curriculum, but the victory was short-lived as the said curriculum was phased out upon the arrival of Pedro Garcia as School Superintendent in 2001.

2001 saw MNPS looking for a new leader and at the time everyone was excited about the possibilities. In a series of events that now seem eerily familiar, Carol Johnson, the first choice of the selection committee decided to remain in Minneapolis as superintendent after 4 days of weighing her options. The board turned to its number 2 choice as the new director, Pedro Garcia. Current Mayor Briley was a councilman at the time and he’s quoted by the Tennessean praising the hiring of Garcia,

“I think in retrospect we’ll look back on this as one of the first indications that he is the kind of person we need to transform the schools into the kind of system everybody wants.”

That should have been our first warning. The Mayor at the time was Bill Purcell who had come into office promising to visit all MNPS schools as Mayor and in his first term, he made over 200 school visits. This move didn’t sit well with the school board because Purcell tended to use these visits to address maintenance problems. Again there were questions of a mayor overstepping their boundaries.

By 2005 Purcell had enough of Garcia and showed his displeasure by giving the school district half of the additional money it had requested. The rest, Purcell said, would have to come from a proposed half-cent sales tax increase, decided by voters, 80 percent of which would be dedicated to schools.

“We all know that the promises and expectations established by the school system and school director three years ago have not been met,” Purcell said pointedly. “This public referendum and the year ahead will give the school board and our director of schools the opportunity to prove to us all that they can and will deliver for our children.”

The vote on the referendum failed.

In 2008, a mere 27 years after voters had made the school board an elected body, school board chair David Fox asked then-Mayor Karl Dean to turn it back into a body appointed by the mayor. A move that would require approval from former mayor Phil Bredesen, who was now Governor of Tennessee. Rumor has it that Bredesen was ready to grant that power, but Dean blinked and the MNPS school board remained an elected body hypothetically independent of the mayor’s office.

I could fill a whole post with notes on how Dean tried to exert his influence over the school board. He hosted recruitment dinners for Teach for America, personally recruited charter schools, leaned on the board to implement desired personnel selections, increased itemization on school budgets and basically did everything he could to influence school policy without actually taking the district over. Was it a good thing? I’ll let you judge. I wasn’t a fan.

When Megan Barry took office MNPS was in the midst of a search for a new director of schools. Barry and the mayor’s office played a significant role in securing the services of current Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Since Barry never finished her first term as mayor, we’ll never know just how extensive her involvement would have become.

So what’s all this look back at history mean? What’s the point? I think the point is that Nashville citizens have always wanted an independent board, but that concept has always been under attack from the people who held the cities highest office. The lines have always been continually blurred, and seldom to the benefit of the city. I believe now, more than ever we need to adhere to the vision of those who crafted the city charter and protect the construct of an independent school board.

Who serves as the director of MNPS is the decision of the school board. How we handle priority schools is the charge of the director of schools. Not an unelected body created by the mayor. Justifying the funding needed to run the district schools is the charge of the school board, it’s not up to the mayor’s office or metro council to procure extra revenue. How schools implement SEL is up to the director as laid out by the school board, not the chamber of commerce. Obviously, support and collaboration from these other entities are welcome, but they must not exert undue influence over the school board.

For its part, the school board has not always exhibited the best behaviors. At times it has been highly contentious with both its own members and members of the community. At times it has found itself at cross purposes with those who run the city. Still, the fact remains, Nashville residents have long expressed a desire to have the school system run by an elected independent board and until that changes, they have a job to do. The mayor and metro council have their own jobs to do. The MNPS school board needs to do its.

QUICK HITS

As I mentioned on Friday, Metro Nashville’s Auditors office released an Audit of complaints received by the department in relation to Dr. Joseph’s financial stewardship. Over the weekend, News 5’s Phil Williams took to Twitter to raise a lengthy list of questions over the audit. Audit committee chair CM Bob Mendes also released two articles that examined the process of generating an audit and outlining some of the potential weaknesses of the process.

In his analysis, Mendes observes that “There is also some evidence that the audit function has typically shied away from controversy.” I think I can agree with that.

On Friday I raised the question about an increase in violent crimes involving juveniles in Nashville. Per a report a report over the weekend from Fox News 17,

According to the Davidson County Juvenile Court, last year, 200 kids were charged with gun possession, a 12% increase from the year before.

The number of kids charged with murder was up 30%, and juvenile vehicle thefts went up from 184 in 2017 to 200 in 2018.

Interpret those number how you wish, but to me, they shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone.

Thomas A. Edison Elementary school hosted its first annual school-wide S.T.E.A.M. night on Thursday, January 31st. The evening developed out of a movie theme and began with a student performance entitled Full Steam Ahead. The performance included a play written and produced by 4th-grade students and teachers. Following the play, families were invited to attend two “showings” that included hands-on activities to address science, technology, engineering arts, and music skills. Almost 200 families were present.

On Tuesday, February 26, J.E. Moss will host a Literacy Night focusing on Black History. There will be food, informational booths, and Book Clubs to help with strategies at home. The Scholastic book fair will also be open. Belmont University and Lipscomb University are both partners in this event.

Haynes Middle hosted the 2nd Annual Family Literacy Night, on Thursday, February 7, 2019. Students and parents enjoyed the plethora of activities centered on literacy. Participants also received an energizing motivational charge from Roderick Belin, AME Church Sunday School Publisher. Mr. Belin emphasized literacy and the importance of being prepared. The Haynes Wildcat band also graced the audience with several symphonic selections. The faculty and staff were all hands on to assist in any capacity to make this event an awesome success. This event was enjoyed by all who attended.

Over the next 2 months board member Christiane Buggs will be hosting meetings around District 5 to discuss the MNPS budget, answer questions on advocacy, and engage community members. Please join her from 5:30-7 during one of these meetings to let her know your concerns.

This morning finds Denver teachers out on strike. Dad Gone Wild stands with these teachers and prays for a short and successful strike.

POLL RESULTS

This weekend I discovered a bug with the polls when you access the blog through Twitter on your phone. The polls do not appear as polls but rather links to poll questions. I am working to remedy that situation. Let’s take a look at the results that did come in.

The first question asked about the level of faith that you have in the audit process. 38% of you indicated that the process was political and open to manipulation. An additional 24% of you felt the results just didn’t add up. None of you felt that the audit delivered a definitive overview. I’d say that your answers supply an indication that Metro Nashville’s audit process needs work. Here are the write-ins:

CORRUPT LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE 1
Wasted more than 1 million on PM 1
what’s w the vacillating, something for everyone? => relative useless report :/

Question 2 asked for your feeling about this years budget process. I think it’s safe to say, you ain’t enthused. 48% of you indicated that you were extremely nervous. 22% indicated they were taking a wait and see attitude. None of you felt good that the district had learned from last years mistakes. Here are the write-ins:

There is one? 1
Knot in stomach 1
We haven’t learned anything from the past 1
Cognitiive Dissonance 1
It’s going to suck!! 1
I’m expecting another dumpster fire. 1
sJoseph has to go bf I support giving this Board more $ for wasting 1
Lots of charts, graphs, & meaningless words later, watch teachers get nothing. 1
Depressed 1
Inured to it

The last question was meant as a little attempt at levity. Since the Grammy Awards were presented last night, I decided to ask who you thought Nashville’s greatest rock band ever was. The definitive answer, with 46% of the votes, was Kings of Leon. All the write-in votes came in for Webb Wilder and the Beatniks.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. 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.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, February is a slow bartending month so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized

MAKE IT STOP

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.”
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird– that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the simple complicated is commonplace–making the complicated simple, awesomely simple–that’s creativity.”
Charles Mingus

“Make it stop”.

Those are the words I hear on the streets of Nashville every day. Streets that seem to be getting a little bit meaner every day. Today we woke up to yet another story of juveniles and guns.

Yesterday at 3pm, a 24-year old man, Kyle Yorlets, lost his life when he was shot outside of his West Nashville home. 3 PM is a time when most kids should be in school. It’s a time when parents are lining up in the car line to pick up their children. Those who took the life of Kyle Yorlets life are purported to be three girls, ages 12, 14 and 15, and two boys, ages 13 and 16. Think about that for a second.

Those children arrested are likely MNPS students. At some middle school this morning there will be at least three empty seats. At a high school, there will be two empty seats. Whispers will spread through the hall and text messages exchanged among fellow classmates, but will anything change? Teachers will share experiences, some may be surprised while others will offer that they saw this day coming for years.  But again will anything change?

First and foremost in our prayers, we need to hold Mr. Yorlets, but we also need to reserve some room for these 5 children whose lives were also taken last night. Taken with a pull of the trigger. While we are holding these children in our hearts we need to ask ourselves, did we really do enough to prevent this? Because the truth is, unless we can say we’ve done absolutely everything for these children and their peers, we can’t claim ourselves without guilt.

We keep hearing juvenile arrests are down. Expulsions and suspensions are down. Yet I see no evidence that actual infractions are down. We play games with the numbers – only count infractions when they result in a suspension or expulsions – and change policy before having supports in place and kids continue to fall through the cracks. Can we look Kyle Yorlets parents in the eye and say we did everything we possibly could to ensure that the children of our community don’t view gun violence as a solution?

Yesterday’s story is just one that happened to make the news. Every day kids are shooting at each other, using guns to solve disagreements. Last night a friend told me a story of how she was awoken at night recently, to the sounds of gunfire. It seems that one of her neighbors, a 15-year-old McGavock student, had angered some of her classmates and as a result, they emptied 41 rounds into her house from an AK-47. A house where her whole family lay asleep that night. The young ladies response was to post on social media the next day, “You didn’t finish the job.”

I don’t mean to single out McGavock, there is not a school in Nashville that is immune to the plague of guns. MNPS recently adopted the lowering of suspension rates for black students as one of it’s 3 main KPI’s. I will continue to make the argument that such a goal, sans supports for kids, actually hurts kids. It creates an illusion that actions unless they are the most egregious, have no consequences. Then suddenly there are consequences, but by then it’s too late.

The argument is not mine alone. Teachers and administrators have made pleas for help with discipline all year, with the only response being a fancy Powerpoint hyping numbers not connected to reality. Meanwhile, teachers continue to start school with empty chairs, and not because those kids were expelled, but rather because someone took their life, or they took someone else’s life. Neither should be acceptable. Protecting our babies begins with keeping them safe.

We have to make it stop. As a school district and as a city, we have to make it stop. We use the defense that getting kids the needed supports are expensive and we are an underfunded school district and the city has no money. Yet, soccer stadiums get built, big corporations get financial help, and the Mayor’s staff get raises. Having a trauma specialist in every school is estimated to cost one million dollars. News 5 reporter Phil Williams just unveiled a million dollars in wasted spending. Why is it we can find money for those items but helping our kids, is just too expensive?

To his credit, Mayor Briley last week unveiled a new plan to combat gun violence in Nashville. However, it focuses on all gun violence, I argue we need a policy with a much narrower focus. In announcing the initiative MNPD made the claim that “deadly shootings are down this year compared to other years. From January through Aug. 22, 2018, there were 45 shootings. During the same time in 2017, there were 54 deadly shootings. That’s down 16.7 percent.” I wonder if those numbers hold true when you look at crimes involving juveniles, either as perpetrators or victims. What’s clear to me though, is that one is too many and we have to make it stop.

DUELING NEWS

The tune Dueling Banjos feels like a fitting soundtrack to last week’s activity in relation to MNPS. News 5’s Phil Williams closed out a week of eyebrow-raising financial stories with yet another one focusing on MNPS’s financial practices. Yesterday also, coincidently, saw the long-awaited release of Metro Nashville Government’s audit of complaints received in relation to Dr. Joseph and his team’s financial practices. MNPS is touting the release as a victory, and while it clears up some misconceptions, I don’t think I’d be celebrating too hard. Per a statement by Dr. Joseph,

“We’ve been working really hard to do right by the children, and the audit found what we knew all along — that we were doing just that,” Joseph said in a statement. “On the issues in question, this audit confirms it. Of course, we can always do better, and we’re continuously striving to improve.”

Yet the audit is riddled with statements like,

“However, the federal purchasing procedures should have been considered.”

“Dr. Monique Felder, Chief Academic Officer, stated these vendors were selected based on prior experience with their work, but the selection process was not documented.”

“However, there was no form to document how the decision was made. Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools Policy FM 2.111 requires a “written determination of the basis for the emergency, and for the selection of the vendor.” The Purchasing Director has since implemented a form to document emergency contracts.”

“However, the research for the product was not documented before the purchase was made.”

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools does not have a consistent, reliable method to track expenditures per contract, per scope of work, or per vendor in order to ensure contract limits or certain policies are met. The vendor ledger screen in the general ledger system shows the transactions with the vendor. However, the screen does not list the contract numbers for the transactions. In the case of Research for Better Teaching, there was no contract. If there had been a contract for each scope of work, with a method to track those expenditures, the amount spent per scope of work could have been easily determined.”

It’s been my experience that those phrases don’t run congruent with organizations that are exceeding expectations. It’s almost like MNPS is celebrating because they were found to be sloppy but not crooks. I would think neither is a desirable designation.

Two other points I’d like to draw your attention to. The first is in regard to the contracts involving Performance Matters. In response to a Phil Williams story that aired on Monday, MNPS issued the following statement,

“In 2016, a transition team made up of local, state and national experts shared that Nashville needed to focus on student achievement — with a sense of urgency. MNPS did not have a user-friendly platform for student assessment and professional development. Performance Matters was the right product at the right time.

“On Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, Metro Legal advised that while acting in good faith, MNPS purchasing staff made an error in interpreting state law that governs the use of out-of-state jurisdictions’ contracts to secure competitive rates on products. Their use of in-state competitive contracts for this product was appropriate. Metro Legal will meet with procurement to ensure that their practices are in line with state law. MNPS is following-up with the individual who made the error.”

However, the conclusion in the audit read as follows,

The allegation that the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education approved a summary of contracts with Performance Matters for $1.1 million, but the actual contracts filed with the Metro Clerk’s office indicates $1.8 million between the two contracts is substantiated. However, this error does NOT appear to have been intentional. The $698,653 amount paid to Performance Matters for services between December 2016 and June 2018 was less than the $1.1 million approved by the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education.

Huh? if this is the case why didn’t MNPS just say that instead of admitting to breaking the law? They could have clung to their mantra of, “We’re sloppy but we follow the law,”

The second item is in regard to a trip taken by MNPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Monique Felder and several MNPS staff to Amelia Island. At the root of this conversation is $14k in hotel rooms to a luxury resort for a conference. The audit looks into exactly who paid for these rooms and lays out a timeline.

The brunt of the story is that Scholastic paid for the rooms and then around March, after a news story by WSMV, Scholastic suddenly remembered that they hadn’t billed MNPS for the rooms. For whatever reason, the check didn’t get cut until 13 months later when  MNPS management asked for proof of payment based on an open records request. Incidentally during the beginning of that timeline, Scholastic had a million dollar contract pending. The contract was denied thanks to board member Jill Speering.

Per the audit, Scholastic didn’t pursue the reimbursement. Lots of schools of schools don’t have a problem taking the perk and so it wasn’t high on their radar. Since they record it as a reduction of expenses and not revenue, it wouldn’t show up on an accounts receivable aging report. $14k ain’t no skin off Scholastic’s nose so they didn’t even notice it was gone for 13 months, and probably would have never noticed. If I was a shareholder of scholastic I might be asking a few questions. How many other reductions in expenses are out there uncollected?

As a shareholder in MNPS, I’m asking questions because I don’t believe there wouldn’t have been either a bill or payment without outside forces at work. In the words of the Metro Auditors, there is no preponderance of evidence – a certain set of facts “more likely than not” occurred – to indicate payment would have been made. I’m also questioning if paying $14k to a luxury resort by an underfunded school district is a prudent use of funds. An article by the New York Times explains how companies are courting superintendents and how the game works.

“Because we are asking for their time and expertise, we commonly offer to pay the cost of their food, transportation and lodging during their participation,” ERDI’s president, David M. Sundstrom, said in an email.”

In case you are unaware, ERDI is mentioned in the Metro Government audit. Dr. Felder has received money for services from ERDI. From the same article,

Last February, at an ERDI conference in New Orleans, Mr. Dance met with Curriculum Associates, which makes reading software, as well as DreamBox Learning, a math platform.

At the time, both companies had contracts with the district. A few months after the event, the school board approved additional money for both companies. Each contract is now worth about $3.2 million.

A DreamBox spokeswoman said there was no connection between the meeting and its contract. “Even the appearance of impropriety is something we take very seriously and take steps to avoid,” she said.

Now I know, that all of that can be written off as coincidence and supposition, But remember that Dallas Dance is a close friend of Dr. Joseph, he was on Joseph’s hand-picked transition team, and MNPS’s statement in response to questions about the Performance Matters contract refers to the transition team. Dr. Joseph in response to questioning over Dance, and ERDI, has said that “others across the country have done wrong, but we have not”. The Metro audit takes him at his word.

I don’t want to get too deep in the audit because, to be honest, there is enough in there for either side to push their narrative. Furthermore, I believe that we are starting to reach a saturation point. That is to say that people have reached a point that they just want it to stop.

It’s like this, we all live in a neighborhood and every day Joe and I are out front embroiled in an argument. You come home at night and we are out fighting. You leave for work and there we are fighting. At first, you may try to figure out who’s right. But our arguments never reach a resolution and they lead to you being in arguments with other neighbors over who’s right. Neighbors that you like. It’s exhausting and takes away from the joy in your neighborhood. Eventually, you reach a saturation point and you stop trying to figure out who’s right and just want them both gone.

In my opinion, that’s about where we are now. The noise has gotten to an untenable level.

MNPS’s Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse often admonishes Community Superintendents, EDSSIs, and Principals about not controlling the noise. It’s probably something he should talk to his boss about. Right, wrong, or indifferent, other than the first couple months of his tenure, Dr. Joseph has never demonstrated the ability to control the noise.

Mike Tyson used to say, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In other words, how are you going to overcome setbacks, adversity, and critics? With Dr. Joseph, we are still awaiting that answer. If all the job entailed was uniting allies around a popular policy, the compensation wouldn’t be almost a half million dollars. It’s that high because the job is that hard and not just anybody can do it.

A look at the agenda for next week’s MNPS school board meeting indicates that it’s time for the conversation that I’ve been saying is coming, to begin. Board Chair Sharon Gentry is indicating that she’s ready to bring a motion for the consideration of extending Dr. Joseph’s contract. I must admit the timing is a bit peculiar.

I predicted this would happen prior to the budget season. Now we are going to take attention away from the budget process to have a contentious conversation over Dr. Joseph’s performance? This one’s not going to come without wounds. Kind of ironic that this notice of consideration comes at the same meeting as a motion for mediation. I would think one has a direct bearing on the other.

Contributing to the bad timing is that the director’s evaluation has still not been completed. Rumor is that it’s close, but there is still no scheduled reconciliation of the director’s evaluation. There is an HR report from Bone McCalister that is scheduled to be delivered next week as well but it’s already been delayed by several months. There is also the state review of Dr. Joseph’s teaching license in regard to following state policy on reporting discipline issues. At present, his license is on hold. Several board members have indicated that they would prefer to discuss a contract extension after his licensure issues have been resolved.

But that’s not it, there is the issue of academic data to take into account. MAP testing is just getting started and the testing window runs for 2 weeks. Will there be adequate time to analyze the data and ensure that we are making the desired progress before the conversation. Shouldn’t that be a major consideration in deciding whether Dr. Joseph warrants an extension or not?

Looking at the board and doing a quick read I think presently it’s all pretty evenly divided when it comes to extending Dr. Joseph’s contract. Buggs, Gentry, and Pinkston are probably “yes”. Bush, Frogge, and Speering are “no”. Elrod, Shepherd, and Walker, are probably still deciding. Other then the “no’s” I wouldn’t count on anyone being too entrenched in one camp or the other.

Part of me wonders if this isn’t a sign that Joseph is ready to throw in the towel. Perhaps he’s pushing Dr. Gentry to go ahead and call the question so we can move ahead one way or the other. Leave in the next couple of months and there is still a little buyout money on the table. Wait until summer, and the job search window shrinks and there’s less money on the table while he looks.

Personally, I’m just going to wait until Tuesday and see what Dr. Gentry presents. Obviously, my position is pretty clear and I thank educator and blogger Dr. Zack Barnes for providing the perfect meme to communicate my position. Make sure you read his Tip Sheet.

But in all fairness let’s hear Dr. Gentry out. There will be plenty of time to hash this out once she sets the ground rules.

QUICK HITS

Kennedy Musgrave, 17, of Nashville and Courtney Good, 12, of Kingsport today were named Tennessee’s top two youth volunteers of 2019 by The Prudential Spirit of Community Awards, a nationwide program honoring young people for outstanding acts of volunteerism. As State Honorees, Kennedy and Courtney each will receive $1,000, an engraved silver medallion and an all-expense-paid trip in early May to Washington, D.C., where they will join the top two honorees from each of the other states and the District of Columbia for four days of national recognition events. During the trip, 10 students will be named America’s top youth volunteers of 2019. Way to go Kennedy!

There’s still time for current 8th-grade students to apply to the School of Science and Math at Vanderbilt! Apply before next Friday, Feb. 15, to be a part of a four-year, interdisciplinary, research-centered learning experience at the prestigious Vanderbilt University.

Memphis seems to be conducting a clinic on how to replace a superintendent. First, you hire a highly respected local individual to be your temporary leader who treats the job like the word “interim” isn’t in his title. Imagine these words ever being spoken by an MNPS leader,

“I’m the least among you when it comes to importance,” said Ray, speaking at a press conference just one day after the district’s board voted to approve his contract. “… Whomever sits on [the] cabinet or in our schools, we’re going to have a servant attitude. This is why we’re here.”

Then when the local money folks come around and offer to pay for your search for a permanent replacement, you politely decline. As a physical education teacher at Bethel Grove Elementary, Toni Jackson said: “We don’t want any outside influence. We don’t need your money. When people come to finance, they want to take control.” Amen.

Freshman Tennessee State Rep Bob Freeman Bill Freeman is officially on the clock. He’s filed House Bill 253 to improve Tennessee 2015 Say Dyslexia law. I knew he was going to be a good one, but I think it’s safe to say that he is already exceeding expectations.

Andy Spears has a post on one area that Tennessee is leading when it comes to education policy. Unfortunately, it’s not a category we want to lead.

The Learning Policy Institute notes that Tennessee has the highest percentage of 1st- and 2nd-year teachers of any state in the nation. Nearly 20% of Tennessee’s teacher workforce is very new to the profession. That’s well above the national average of 12.7%. When that number is combined with the percentage of uncertified teachers (4.1%), the outlook is not good: Our schools are not retaining experienced teachers. The national average for classrooms staffed by uncertified teachers is 2.6%.

Make sure you mark this date on the calendar.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of a teacher of year announcements. 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. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

SUFFERING FOOLS

“Only the very stupid or the very deprived can any longer help knowing that the documents of civilization have been written in blood and tears, blood and tears no less real for being very remote.”
Seamus Heaney, Opened Ground: Selected Poems, 1966-1996“We’

“Yes, I was infatuated with you: I am still. No one has ever heightened such a keen capacity of physical sensation in me. I cut you out because I couldn’t stand being a passing fancy. Before I give my body, I must give my thoughts, my mind, my dreams. And you weren’t having any of those.”
Sylvia Plath, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath

This week school board member Will Pinkston joined the Blogosphere. His blog is called Race to the Bottom. In his initial post, he rehashes the history of the reform movement in Tennessee through his eyes. Word on the street is that this piece was initially shopped to Atlantic magazine, and others and they passed. Perhaps local writers Vesia Hawkins and Jason Egly can give him tips for getting published in the modern era. Sorry, sometime I can’t help myself.

We’ll dive deeper into his piece in a bit, but first I want to look quote from the piece. Keep in mind that Pinkston is fresh off working as an advisor for Phil Bredesen’s failed campaign for US Senate. A race that ended badly and that some cite his advice as a reason for it not being a closer race. In his blog post, Pinkston states,

Not long after I was elected, my former boss Gov. Bredesen suggested to a reporter that my biggest challenge on the school board might be managing my own temperament because I don’t “suffer fools gladly.” He was right. And in my estimation, the landscape was swarming with fools.

This quote begs the question, how does he recognize the fools? In all fairness, Pinkston describes his definition of fairness such,

Fools who didn’t understand basic math when it came to the negative fiscal impact of unabated charter growth. Fools who didn’t comprehend that Tennessee only became the fastest-improving state in the history of the Nation’s Report Card by pursuing nearly a decade of systemic reforms and investments — not ripping apart the fabric of urban school systems. Fools who didn’t value what I considered to be our greatest democratic institution — public education.

Ok, but I have to question, based on recent activity, if Pinkston hasn’t become one of the fools himself. Just look at this week.

On Monday and Tuesday News 5’s Phil Williams ran stories about contracts, and as result money, that was mishandled by the director and his team. This morning brought another involving settlement in a sexual harassment case. The stories were very upsetting to a lot of people, for a lot of different reasons. In a very measured Twitter discussion with education advocate Vesia Hawkins, it was revealed that one local supporter of Dr. Joseph admitted there may be some bureaucratic incompetence, some bad judgment, some difficulty with facts, but no corruption.

Only Williams knows the identity of that supporter, but to anybody who has ever talked to Pinkston about the director, those words seem awfully familiar. Bad judgment, bureaucratic incompetence, difficulty with facts – I would argue that all are hallmarks of a fool. Yet, Pinkston not only suffers but actively defends.

On a quick side note, I would urge you to read the Williams/Hawkins conversation. It’s very thought-provoking and Hawkins makes some solid points. Points that belong in a much larger conversation about the role of race in Nashville. Williams for his part is always respectful and raises his points without diminishing or dismissing hers.

Moving on, yesterday the Tennessee Court of Appeals issued a ruling on Nashville’s fight over student data. in 2017, Tennessee lawmakers passed a law that required school districts to hand over student contact information to districts, such as the Achievement School District. Pinkston pushed the MNPS school board to fight this law and refuse to turn over data based on the argument that to do so would go against federal law. Many at that time accused him of hijacking the conversation to pursue his own personal agenda.

Yesterday’s ruling upholds one made in Nashville around this time last year. As much as Pinkston argued and postured, two judges have now ruled that his arguments do not stand. But lest you think this folly comes with no cost, make sure you read the final paragraph of the recent ruling.

The judgment of the trial court is affirmed, and this matter is remanded with costs of appeal assessed against the appellants, Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, and Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, for which execution may issue if necessary.

Say it with me, underfunded school district.

Last night Metro Council was slated to take up a resolution filed by At-Large Councilwoman Erica Gilmore that would demand that school board member Jill Speering apologize to the director of schools for what she wrote in a recent private text. You’ll remember that last week Mayor Briley in addressing the Hillsboro Parent Advisory Committee(PAC) speculated that the resolution would probably pass. It didn’t. In fact, the education committee refused to recommend its passage by a vote of 6-0 and its sponsor withdrew it from a vote on the floor with a comment.

Based on what actually transpired last night, one has to wonder why the Mayor would feel confident enough in the potential passage of this resolution that he would voice that assumption publicly. Pinkston often brags to friends that he has the ear of the mayor and talks to him on a daily basis. I’ll let you connect the dots and decide for yourself the role he played. But anyhow you slice it, in retrospect, those words Briley spoke last week make him look at the least out of touch and perhaps…foolish?

In pulling last nights resolution Gilmore tried to downplay any portrayal of Speering as a racist. Per the Tennessean’s Jason Gonzales,

When making her motion, Gilmore said she did not bring the resolution forward to suggest that Speering is racist but to send a message against her mask suggestion.When we discuss leadership in this city, educational leadership is the fabric of Nashville. The educators influence dialogue and attitudes. I want to make sure our leaders are cognizant of their actions,” Gilmore said.

CM Ed Kindall went even further with his comments,

“I personally don’t believe it had anything to do with race in her mind. I’m sure she did not recognize or was sensitive to the history you and I are sensitive to,” he said, addressing Gilmore. Kindall said while he is not looking to excuse Speering’s actions, he believes she made her decision based on the fear teachers have of losing their jobs when protesting. 

My question would be, where were these comments over the past 2 weeks? Where were these comments when the Tennessean’s David Plaza was writing inflammatory editorials? Actually, that’s what I’d like to see next, a resolution calling for David Plazas to apologize. But that won’t happen.

Again the director fails to grasp another opportunity to mend fences. Where was his commentary on the pending resolution?

Further lost in the discussion is the acknowledgment that teachers are afraid to speak out. Does anybody ask for further exploration of why that is? Does anybody raise a single question about teachers fears? Nope, instead, Kindall goes on to state that he believes Shawn Joseph is “doing a good job and will continue to do a good job if allowed to”. One has to wonder just how we define a good job when it comes to MNPS.

THE REAL STORY BEHIND RACE TO THE TOP

So now back to the Pinkston Blog Post. I was deeply involved in the reform battles of the last decade. Have the scars to prove it. That said, I’ve also got friendships that developed out of that period of time. When it comes to education policy I don’t agree with these friends on much, but man I treasure their friendship. Yes, I believe that their supports have done real damage to the public education system, but I’m sure they’ll make the same argument when it comes to mine. The point is that I’ve come to see them as people, not super villains or “bad actors”. I’d like to believe they’ve done the same with me.

When it comes to “bad actors” – who even uses that term outside of a James Cagney film – I find that they make up a minority of the people out here fighting over education policy. Don’t get me wrong, they exist, but most of the people in the trenches are doing it for the right reasons. I suspect the near future is going to bring some more fierce battles making it important to remember that there are real people engaging in these discussions. People deserving of respect. Just because they disagree with me doesn’t earn them the title of “fools”. There are days that I play the role of a fool myself.

About those trenches. Pinkston was never actually in them. That shouldn’t come as surprise because many of the people who actually crafted Tennessee’s  RTTT application have often privately said that Pinkston over-inflates his input in the application process. It’s not a stretch that the same would hold true in his retelling of the reform battles.

When it came to boots on the ground work, Pinkston was never at the meetings in church basements attended by people from across the state. He was never actively involved in the email or phone campaigns that so many dedicated people conducted. He didn’t show up at the meetings were the ASD decided which Nashville school it was going to take over.  He didn’t show up at the legislative hearings and speak to lawmakers. The day the last voucher bill was defeated he was not among those dedicated volunteers in attendance.

Amy Frogge and Jill Speering were always in the trenches. Pinkston refers in his blog post to Amy Frogge as “a PTO Mom”. One who doesn’t seem to show up on the scene until 2016. That’s offensive and inaccurate. Frogge is so much more, including a licensed attorney. But of course, Pinkston has never been very respectful toward the ladies, why should now be any different? The mayor’s education advisor Indira Dammu might want to suggest Mayor Briley read Frogge’s interview with Dad Gone Wild from a couple of years ago to get some perspective.

JC Bowman is another one of those people who has been active in education issues over the last decade. He is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. JC was one those friends I picked up out of our fights. Bowman’s first words to me were, “I think you are a bully.” From there a conversation and a friendship grew. A friendship that other friends make take umbrage with. That’s their right, but know that while I may not agree with everything Bowman subscribes too, I always learn something from him. I’ve also never been real receptive to people telling me who I can befriend.

Many blame Bowman for Tennessee’s teachers losing the right to collectively bargain and there is some truth to that, but things are never that simple. Bowman was fighting for equal access for his organization. As a by-product of that fight Tennessee switched to collaborative conferencing when it comes to teacher contracts. Whether Bowman intentionally cost teachers that right or not is subject to debate. I do know that he has been a fierce advocate for teachers since then.

I often re-print pieces from professional educators. It’s in that spirit that I share JC’s words with you. Believe them. Don’t believe them. But I urge you to hit the links and read the bill itself. The truth is written in the legislation.

I read a very length piece by a former Governor Phil Bredesen staffer on Race to the Top.  There was nothing really new in the piece and I was unsure why it needed 16,000 words.  I would have summed it up briefly like this if I wrote it: “The state needed money, so we took a bunch of federal dollars, now we are unhappy.”

It is worth the reminder that both Race to the Top, and the subsequent First to the Top legislation began under former Governor Bredesen.  “When the planets line up is when you jump for it,” Gov. Bredesen told Education Week.  Everything that has transpired since those events were clearly defined in that proposal and legislation necessitated for the proposal.   So, it should not have been a “surprise” to anyone.  The journey was clearly mapped in the federal grant application.  Read it for yourself.

Bredesen proposed lifting the TVAAS prohibition for the state. Rachel Woods, the communications director for the Tennessee Department of Education in 2010, clearly identified state objectives at the time to the media, such as redesign of the “evaluation system,” “pay-for-performance,” “national standards,” and a “recovery district, that would be a real takeover of the school.”  The federal proposal itself, submitted by Governor Bredesen, says: “we have created an ―Achievement School District allowing the commissioner of the state Department of Education to intervene in consistently failing schools.”  In addition, it stated clearly the intent was to create “new charter schools” to maximize the impact of the Achievement School District (ASD).

Earlier this year I described the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone (iZone) stating the “results are somewhat promising, in comparison to the state’s own Achievement School District.”  Test scores in the Shelby County Schools Innovation Zone have increased faster than other school improvement efforts.  It is a clear reminder that government closest to the people has the best chance of success when enacted properly.  It wasn’t the failure of personnel to enact the policy for the state, it was that the proposal itself was flawed from the onset.  There is no dispute that the teacher’s union was deeply involved in Race to the Top process at the time.

The marriage between education practitioner and education policymaker is not easy.  It is why I spend a great deal of time with educators nearly every day, and it helps that it is my actual background.  While I have certainly been critical of various education policies, and at times some policymakers, it serves us little to go back and criticize previous leaders, or failed policies. However, sometimes we must go back for historical purposes to prove a point.  Let’s read the actual Race to the Top document, which really laid the groundwork for changes in the last decade.

Whether you believe that Race to the Top is good or bad, depends upon your individual perspective.  We must think both short-term and long-term in education policy.  In 2009 and 2010, our state leaders were strictly focused on $501 million dollars. It is sometimes easier in public policy to create these short-term fixes to problems.   Do not let revisionist history tell you otherwise.   As President John Adams once said: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

So, it is clear that some people have buyer’s remorse with their involvement with Race to the Top.  However, that guilt should not be because of other people in other administrations involved in completing what was outlined in the proposal, but rather the content of the proposal itself.   States could have also accomplished turning around low achieving schools, adopting high-quality standards and assessments, promoting conditions that allow for more successful charter schools, and improving teacher and principal performance, stated goals of Race to the Top, without the federal government according to the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Future policymakers should view Race to the Top as a cautionary tale of the federal role in education.  That’s my takeaway.

I’m not sure what Will Pinkston’s plans are for the future. It’s clear to me that this week paints a clear picture of a need for him to self evaluate. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that those “who don’t suffer fools well” are the same ones who take pride in being “politically incorrect”. The two claims lend themselves to those who believe that their opinions are always without fault. They are claims often used to excuse boorish behavior. Something that Pinkston displays often on social media.

Fortunately, I am not privy to Pinkston’s Twitter rants. He blocked me a couple years ago and while I’ve thought about pointing out to him that the federal courts prohibit elected officials from blocking constituents because they disagree with them, I kind of enjoy the silence. Maybe that’s just a case of me not suffering a fool well and I need to work on it. I will say that I’ve yet to see an underfunded school get additional funding because a school board member mocked the new state education superintendent her first week on the job.

I suspect all of this is about raising his national image in order to secure future speaking engagements. More Pinkston doing what’s best for Pinkston. Muck things up, create some discord, then walk out the door to his next endeavor leaving others to clean up the mess left behind.

Some have given Pinkston credit for apologizing for his role in Race To The Top. I’m not one of those. The apology doesn’t ring sincere, because he shifts the blame to others. He claims it was others who subverted this brilliant policy. No, the policy was a bad policy with little foresight. That’s the truth.  Luckily for Pinkston, most of us are still willing, though begrudgingly, to suffer fools. Therefore there is still some hope for redemption. Balls in his court, if he wants to issue a true apology.

Posted in Uncategorized

DOMINOS CONTINUING TO FALL

“Curiosity is insubordination in its purest form.”
Vladimir Nabokov

“To grow up is to wonder about things; to be grown up is to slowly forget the things you wondered about as a child.”
Henning Mankell, When the Snow Fell

 

The weather forecast for Nashville calls for unseasonably warm temperatures this week. Unfortunately, I believe the same holds true for MNPS as News Channel 5 reporter Phil Williams drops another story revealing questionable behavior out of central office. This time the story is focusing on contracts with outside vendors and how they were procured. In particular, the contract with Performance Matters.

Any story about contracts has to take place in front of the backdrop of the relationship between MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph and former Baltimore Superintendent Dallas Dance. Dance was a rising star in the education world after having taken the over the reins for Baltimore Public Schools while still in his early 30’s. For football fans in search of a reference point, he was the Sean McVay of the urban school world. Dance was a member of Dr. Joseph’s hand-picked transition team when Joseph first arrived in MNPS.

In 2017, Dance suddenly resigned one year into a four-year contract extension with BPS. Later in the year, he was indicted for failing to disclose $150k worth of side payments for his part-time consulting work, including payments from SUPES Academy, an Illinois-based professional training company that he helped win a no-bid contract with the school system he led. SUPES later morphed into the Education Research and Development Institute (ERDI), a company that members of Joseph’s leadership team have relationships with. Last year, Dance was convicted and served four months in jail.

I bring up Dance again because of what’s in his sentencing documents. These are not a reporter’s interpretation but rather statements of fact by the court. In these documents, it is outlined how Dance and partners “piggy-backed” off contracts in order to subvert the RFP process and secure no-bid contracts. Some of those companies are the same companies that MNPS does business with currently. As such, I argue that extra scrutiny is warranted. Channel 5 is supplying that scrutiny.

This week’s stories by Phil Williams should prove interesting and raise further questions on whether Nashville has the right man in charge of its school system, or, if as some argue, he’s just being picked on unfairly. Some may continue to defend Joseph and try to say that he and Dance are merely acquaintances. Unfortunately, Joseph piggy-backs off Dance’s success on his resume. Citing as one of his accomplishments, Joseph writes:

Supported Dr. Dallas Dance, Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools, to conceptualize and develop a district-run principal training program. Specific duties included training 50 aspiring leaders to assume principal positions within Baltimore County Public Schools.

That’s a sword that cuts both ways. I’m sure I’ll have more to say once I’ve had time to go through the hundreds of emails that Williams has included with this story. A story that is not new to me. At the very least, it seems pretty clear that Joseph and team failed to follow state law. I’ll leave it you to decide just how well the district’s response holds up, especially considering who was on the transition team they cite in their statement:

“In 2016, a transition team made up of local, state and national experts shared that Nashville needed to focus on student achievement — with a sense of urgency. MNPS did not have a user-friendly platform for student assessment and professional development. Performance Matters was the right product at the right time.

“On Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019, Metro Legal advised that while acting in good faith, MNPS purchasing staff made an error in interpreting state law that governs the use of out-of-state jurisdictions’ contracts to secure competitive rates on products. Their use of in-state competitive contracts for this product was appropriate. Metro Legal will meet with procurement to ensure that their practices are in line with state law. MNPS is following-up with the individual who made the error.”

One last side note from last week’s stories and MNPS’s subsequent release of the entire video of Dr. Joseph’s interview with Williams. At the very end of the interview, as the camera pans back, it is revealed that during the entire interview Joseph had someone seated by his side.

I’m told that the man in question is the head of transportation, Michael Lee. His presence raises questions. Why did Joseph require a minder during an interview with an award-winning and long-established journalist? Was he afraid that Williams was going to leap across the room and potentially cause him physical harm during the interview? Did he need him there in case he needed someone to throw under the proverbial bus? Or was the gentleman there to help in the event a hasty retreat was required should questioning become too heated? Just one more weird wrinkle in a seemingly endless stream of weirdness.

WHAT WAS ONCE GOOD FOR THE GOOSE IS NO LONGER GOOD FOR THE GANDER

Word has begun to trickle out that MNPS board member Will Pinkston is getting increasingly frustrated over other board members’ failure to follow his directives. This past weekend he decided to address this frustration by holding a “retreat.” The reality of this “retreat” is that it was actually a budget committee meeting. Since the board recently voted to conduct all board meetings under the eye of a camera, Pinkston needed to hold a “retreat” so he’d be free of that restriction. Unfortunately for him, his plan failed and Channel 5 showed up with their own cameras.

Pinkston led the “retreat” in his role as vice-chair of the budget committee since the agenda was solely focused on budget advocacy. I’m not sure why budget chair committee Anna Shepherd abdicated her role to Pinkston, but she attended the meeting via phone, as did Jill Speering. Fran Bush and Amy Frogge were in attendance, along with all other board members besides Gini Pupo-Walker who was out of town with a previous commitment. There has been some criticism of Bush and Frogge not attending previous retreats.

The gist of the meeting was one of Pinkston explaining the importance of board members all speaking with one voice on the budget and delivering the same message: MNPS is an underfunded school district. A schedule of the 2019 budget sessions was handed out and plans were discussed around ways that the district could educate the public. Dr. Joseph stated that “compensation is first and foremost” for the budget plan. A strategy was proposed for each board member to hold public participation meetings in their district.

At this suggestion, both Frogge and Bush balked. Both expressed difficulty in going forth and asking for other items besides compensation before MNPS had cleaned up their own spending habits. Both have repeatedly tried to raise discussion on the difficult questions around spending that still remain unanswered but had been brushed off. Until they were satisfied that the district was truly being prudent with taxpayer money, they wouldn’t feel comfortable asking for more money from taxpayers.

At this point, Frogge addressed the elephant in the room – a lack of trust – and said to Dr. Joseph, “Shawn, you have lied to us over and over.”

Dr. Joseph took umbrage, saying, “I won’t be called a liar.”

Frogge refused to back down and promised to produce a list of lies delivered to the board over the last couple of years. The exchange was relatively mild, but again illustrated the undercurrent of distrust that exists in the district. Discussion moved on to how principals would receive their individual school budgets. At this point, Speering reminded board members of the problems with last year’s process and in particular with  individual budgets delivered to principals. She cautioned that steps be taken not to repeat past mistakes.

There was little detailed talk about teacher salaries, though CFO Chris Henson did share that increasing teacher salaries with the step increase would cost 8 million dollars and that a 1% raise would cost $5 million. Was I a sitting board member, my response would have been, then I guess you have about $32 million to find.

During the meeting, Pinkston was very careful with his words, but outside of meetings, he has been very open about the actions of board members Speering, Frogge, and Bush. Telling people that they want to over-mitigate every perceived infraction and that they are trafficking in conspiracy theories. He has even tried to solicit allies to try to persuade the tumultuous three that their speaking out is hurting the district funding.

I find all of that a little comical since everything transpiring now is straight out of the Will Pinkston handbook. Keep in mind that back in 2014, Register had about 18 months left on his contract and people were speculating on whether he would go or stay. Register had participated in some high-profile battles but there was no real hard push one way or the other. Pinkston decided to make the decision for the district and engaged in an open and public campaign to remove Register.

According to Register, the volume of emails from Pinkston was overwhelming, with 389 emails over an 18-month period. That 389 amounted to 59% of the total emails from the board. Pinkstons’ response was:

“If he’s spending his time analyzing where emails are coming from, then that’s not a great use of anybody’s time,” Pinkston responded. “For every email Jesse Register claims to have received from me, I’ve probably received three times that volume complaining about him and the Central Office.”

Ironically, he now berates fellow board members for over listening to disgruntled voices. Board Chair Cheryl Mayes attempted to reign in Pinkston, going as far as to accuse him of playing gotcha games with Register, but Pinkston didn’t alter his tactics. The committee chair who just handed control of the recent budget committee meeting… I mean retreat… offered the following words in a Nashville Scene article:

Board Member Anna Shepherd called Pinkston’s criticisms “distracting,” adding they’re “tearing down” Register and the rest of the school board. She added Pinkston should follow the policy and speak with his vote instead of publicly airing their dirty laundry.

Pinkston’s response was to issue the following statement and proceed full speed ahead:

Our commitment to the voters, parents, students and taxpayers of Davidson County supersedes the antiquated board policy you’re referencing. The voters of my district did not put me on the board to kowtow to an imperial superintendent, and I imagine your voters feel the same way. I’ve publicly recognized the Central Office when things are going well, and will continue to do so. Likewise, when I believe things aren’t going so well, I will continue to make my views known. Let’s continue this conversation, as a group, at Tuesday’s Governance Committee meeting when we review GP-9.

Eventually, Register caved to pressure and did not seek a contract renewal. Pinkston has ever since reveled in his victory.

I’m not quite sure why Pinkston now feels he has a finer tuned sense of responsibility and acumen than the tumultuous 3 – Bush, Frogge, Speering – but he clearly doesn’t feel the need to show them the same level of respect that he once demanded. Back then, Pinkston justified his actions by saying he had privately shared his concerns to no avail and refused to defend decisions he didn’t agree with.

Adding another wrinkle to current events is that Pinkston continues to try to exert influence after virtually abdicating his position for a year while working for the Bredesen campaign. An unofficial count shows that in 2018, he missed 10 meetings, left early for 8, and only fully attended 4. Not exactly a finger-on-the-pulse record, especially since when he leaves early, it’s usually prior to the Director’s report.

As I’ve said previously stated, Pinkston’s attendance record brings into question his qualifications to lead the Director’s Evaluation Committee. But since that evaluation is once again late, I think the bigger question would be why, after two years, does he continually fail to deliver a director’s evaluation on time? Yet here we are, three years into Dr. Joseph’s tenure, and the board has not delivered a single evaluation in a timely manner. The summative evaluation from this summer has yet to be formally completed.

There has been some speculation that the Chamber and other political entities are only too happy with the level of discord currently going on. While people are discussing board antics, they are distracted from things like charter growth, education savings accounts, and changes in BEP funding. That may be true when all the fighting is about drivers and text messages, but let’s see how comfortable things remain now that talk is turning to illegalities and performance issues. If the past serves as any kind of indicator, those running for office in August will be asked to explain why they sat on the sidelines while serious offenses occurred with the MNPS school system.

Or maybe not. It’s worth noting that Mayor Briley won his job by only gathering 44K votes last time out. Maybe no credible challenger will step forth and run for Mayor. Maybe the status quo will reign when it comes to at-large council seats and the same old cast of characters will advance. I keep thinking that with 100 people a day moving to Nashville, eventually, some new blood will step up to the plate. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

People continue to ask, why would teachers be afraid of retribution from Dr. Joseph? Well, this week presents ample evidence of why one might have reason to be concerned. Not only is school board member and oft-critic of Joseph Jill Speering facing a resolution from Metro Council, but now a fellow board member and critic Fran Bush is facing the threat of a recall promoted by Joseph ally Jacobia Dowell. The number of required signatures on a petition to recall is considerably higher than some might think though. Getting that number will prove extremely difficult, but it will provide an opportunity to sling some ugliness in Bush’s direction. An opportunity some will only be too happy to take.

I can’t help but wonder how much of it is tied to the upcoming election for council representative of District 29. Dowell is supporting one candidate, while Bush has thrown her support to another. Look who is also supporting Dowell’s candidate. This feels like a move to try to address two desires at once.

Over here we are increasingly impressed by Bush and her willingness to not bow at the altar of sacred cows. Her style might not always be to your liking, but she comes prepared and is willing to ask questions that have been ignored for too long. If you’re looking for something to be offended by, I’d start with TDOE report card from this past year.

Congratulations to Dr. Ann-Marie Gleason, the principal of Harpeth Valley Elementary School, for her appointment as a Zone Director on the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) Board!

Meigs Magnet Middle School faculty selected Lisa Shaffer as the 2019 Teacher of the Year. Ms. Shaffer teaches 6th grade Language Arts. She has taught for 15 years. She also challenges herself to stay current with best practices and incorporates new strategies and tools each year. Ms. Shaffer says she models her own love of learning and builds relationships with students in order to make lessons meaningful and fun. Big salute!
Ten students from the Academy of Entertainment Communication at Pearl Cohn HS participated in an intensive two-day job shadow with NECAT funded by Ascend Federal Credit Union. Students demonstrated industry knowledge and skills in audio and visual production. Five of the students were personally invited by NECAT’s CEO to participate in the Spring 2019 Our Nashville TV Series as members of the NECAT Super Crew Production Team.
Cole ES is proud to have been selected to represent the SE quadrant for Book ‘Em month. Read Me Month is a special annual celebration of reading to spark motivation and joy for reading, as well as raise awareness about the importance of providing literacy services to Nashville’s Youth. Cole will start the morning with a school-wide assembly which will also serve as a pep rally for literacy. The chorus will kick off the program with the school song “I’m A Cole Eagle.” Then, reading role models from the Nashville community will go into each classroom to read a book to the class, share information about their careers, and what reading means to them. After the read aloud, all students will select a book to take home as their very own. Cole is excited about this opportunity to promote literacy and represent the wonderful schools in the SE quadrant.
On Friday I gave you the names of the MNPS Middle School Principals named finalists for principal of the year honors. For Elementary Schools, here are the finalists:
  • Barbara Frazier – Gower
  • Justin Uppinghouse – Whitsett
  • Chad High – Granbery
  • Brenda Steele – Old Center
  • Ann-Marie Gleason – Harpeth Valley

Barbara Frazier has since taken her name out of the running in deference to the other candidates.

On the High School level, here are the finalists:

  • Henry Johnson – Bass Alternative Learning Center
  • Angela McShepard – MLK
  • James Witty – Virtual School
  • KC Winfrey – Cora Howe

A fine bunch of representatives. Hats off to all of you!

POLL ANSWERS
Time for the weekly review of poll questions.
The first question this weekend asked, how do you feel about CM Erica Gilmore’s resolution asking School Board Member Jill Speering to publically apologize to Dr. Joseph for her private text messages? Unlike Mayor Briley, most of you don’t agree with this resolution. Out of 135 of you who responded, 70 of you feel it’s another example of Dr. Joseph trying to shut up critics. Another 35 of you feel that it is political grandstanding. Only 2 of you gave any indication that Speering should be forced to apologize. Let’s see what the council’s vote looks like tomorrow night.
Here are the write-in votes:
Not helping children simply stirring the pot 1
She needs to apologize and your racist ass should apologize as well. 1
What? Idk what this is even about. I only worry about myself. 1
The baird should manage the director not invite protest by subordinates 1
It’s beyond ridiculous! 1
Erica just trying to be relevant when she isnt. 1
Elected official gaslighting…smacks of fascism. 1
Both grandstanding and trying to shut up a critic. 1
way out of line; instead, shd be pressuring Board to hold Director accountable 1
Inappropriate and improper meddling 1
Gilmore is an embarrassment. Entitled Brat. 1
Isn’t Gilmore a Scientologist?

Question 2 asked whether you thought Dr. Joseph releasing his video of his interview with Phil Williams helped or hindered his case. Out of 124 responses, 52 of you felt it made him look even guiltier. 23 of you answered that it demonstrates how poor his media advisors are. Only 1 of you indicated that it explains most things for you.

Here are the write-ins:

Was that the body guard sitting next to SJ? 1
It was great! It proves he can’t tell a story straight. He’s shady. 1
Phil Williams badgered him. 1
Who’s best interest does he have in mind? Certainly not kids or teachers. 1
underscores how he abuses his privilege; Board shd be holding him accountable 1
It’s not the full interview- watch Channel 5 1
Political self-interest piece should not be shared on MNPS platform 1
Ain’t nobody got time for that 1
His animosity towards Phil Williams is foolish. 1
Shouldn’t have to interview with Phil to begin with. 1
Who actually supports this guy within MNPS besides those he lavishly pays? 1
Performance matters: Driver paid when he didn’t work? That’s efficiency ?#hmmm 1
Again – beyond ridiculous. Did he really think that made him look good? 1
media as judeg and jury when theboard should just direct, manage or VOTE !!! 1
Backfired. 1
Transparency, finally, but it makes him look very self serving. 1
Fire him

The last question was about MNEA. I attempted to identify if most readers were members or not. The results were very interesting and I hope union reps were paying attention. Out of 113 respondents, 33 of you said you just couldn’t justify the expense. 17 of you said you were proud members. My advice to leaders would be to make a concentrated effort to flip those numbers. The good news is that 13 of you indicated that new leadership may entice you into the fold.

Here are the write-ins:

I am and I’m looking for new leadership 1
Proud supporter of teachers, but not one 1
This parent approves 1
No 1
No. My wife is though. I’m not even a teacher. Just a concerned citizen. 1
Why? They don’t advocate for teachers or have any power whatsoever. 1
Member but not proud 1
Vote for Theresa Wagner. Kail is a poor choice. 1
was when I was MNPS teacher, but not now that I am retired 1
Not eligible 1
Waste of money- present leadership supports Joseph 1
MNEA, TEA, AND NEA 1
I was until I retired. 1
Proud member of RCEA, RobCo has highest % membership of all teachers unions inTN 1
Why? So they can garnish $650 from my paycheck? 1
Can’t afford to throw money down the toilet on my salary. 1
Yes and excited about new leadership possibilities! 1
Yes but I’d like to cancel it just not sure how! 1
I was until I retired last year. 1
Way too ineffective for me to invest in look at the MOU…. boooooo 1
They do nothing for me. Why would I? 1
Yes 1
Too expensive. PET is cheaper and just as useful.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. 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.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

Posted in Uncategorized

THE BUSINESS OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM

“That’s the whole trouble. You can’t ever find a place that’s nice and peaceful, because there isn’t any. You may think there is, but once you get there, when you’re not looking, somebody’ll sneak up and write “Fuck you” right under your nose. Try it sometime. I think, even, if I ever die, and they stick me in a cemetery, and I have a tombstone and all, it’ll say “Holden Caulfield” on it, and then what year I was born and what year I died, and then right under that it’ll say “Fuck you.” I’m positive, in fact.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye

“It’s okay. We aren’t in the same class. Just don’t forget that some of us watch the sunset too.”
S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders

This week can be summed up in just one word: exhausting. It was exhausting for parents. It was exhausting for teachers. It certainly was exhausting for principals. I think it was even exhausting for elected officials. Let’s take a minute to try to push aside the curtain of fatigue and take a look at some of the things that contributed to this exhausting week.

WHY ARE TEACHERS AFRAID?

Back a few weeks ago, school board member Jill Speering’s private text message urging people to attend a board meeting to protest Director of Schools Dr. Joseph’s performance and suggesting that if teachers were afraid of retribution they wear masks was made public. People took exception to the claim that teachers might be afraid. After this week, that defense shouldn’t hold water and people should have a clear understanding of why teachers might be afraid.

On Wednesday, council member Erica Gilmore introduced a council resolution that called for school board member Jill Speering to issue a formal apology to Dr. Joseph for the aforementioned private text messages. Per the Tennessean, “Gilmore, who faces re-election in August for her council seat, but hasn’t ruled out runs for vice mayor or mayor, is a political ally of Joseph.”

In other words, a message is being sent that you don’t mess with the good doctor unless you are looking for trouble. The events in question transpired nearly a month ago and most of the outrage has died down. Speering has acknowledged how her words could be misinterpreted and she has expressed regret. Her opponents are not satisfied with that and wish to continue to try to publicly humiliate her.

Gilmore, through her resolution, is demanding that Speering retract a personal text that was never intended for the general public and formally apologize to Dr. Joseph. Nobody has asked how this text became public, whom it was intended for, and in what context. The very leaking of that private text was an exercise in political gamesmanship. The intent from the very beginning was to use shame to quiet a vocal critic of Dr. Joseph. The resolution says as much: “WHEREAS, Mrs. Speering has been an outspoken opponent of Dr. Shawn Joseph’s leadership as the Director of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools.”

The resolution accuses Speering’s text of encouraging the wearing of “masks for the express purpose of concealing identities of those expressing opposition in such circumstances is, at the least, extremely insensitive and evokes comparisons to the historical persecution of African-Americans by the Ku Klux Klan, whose members also wore and continue to wear masks.” How many people realized that the KKK initially wore masks in their early incarnation before moving to hoods? I didn’t until I did more research.

But there are many contemporary accounts of klansmen dressed in “women’s clothing,” and reports of mask wearing and use of blackface too, but little indication of the use of pointed hoods. In general, the original Klan seems to have been too disorganized and decentralized to have a uniform, and its adherents marked themselves in different ways.

For many of us, the Klan is a reprehensible organization and a historical footnote. We are familiar with the hooded garb, the burning of crosses, and the heinous actions but because we wholeheartedly reject their dogma and the actions associated with that dogma, details have faded from memory. For others, the wounds inflicted by the actions of the klan are much more personal and raw, and much like for descendants of victims of the Holocaust, those details will never fade and rightfully are as painful today as if they had transpired yesterday. I admit it, I can never fully understand the depth of the scars inflicted by that time in American history. Nor can I fully grasp the many ways institutional racism continues to have a hold on day-to-day American life.

People who are offended by Speering’s choice of words do not need my permission to be offended, nor my endorsement of how they express their outrage. But we will never be able to undo the harm racism causes if we use every opportunity to use every perceived insult as a weapon of shame against our opponents. To assign intent based solely on a single paragraph text does nothing to promote healing of those deep divides and the scars that remain fresh. If Speering had invited supporters to come in “woman’s clothing,” a direct line to the Klan could have also been drawn if one chose to. But most of us wouldn’t have made that leap. We have to continue to look for ways to unite instead of continually dividing.

The drafting of this resolution also sends out another subtle message – a message that black people must support black people. Nowhere in Speering’s text did she ever indicate that she only wanted white educators to show up. For all we know, the message could have been sent to three black educators, three Hispanic educators, and three white educators. But that’s the narrative that Joseph and his surrogate Gilmore want you to believe. By quickly drawing a link to the Klan though, a message is subtly sent that any criticism of a black leader can’t be about performance and has to be about race. It sends a message that a much bigger issue is at play, and that educators of color must stand behind the director, a man of color, in order to defend that higher issue.

Credit goes to State Representative Harold Love for spelling it out very honestly. As legislators started to gather for this year’s legislative session, some openly questioned the actions of MNPS’s school board, which led Love to respond to the Nashville Scene. Love warned that a citywide debate over Joseph’s performance could lead to a divided city, “because African-Americans will feel as if you’re attacking [Joseph] just because of his race, and it could be a whole list of things that he could have done wrong, but the perception is going to be [that], and I know that we don’t want that.”

If you didn’t get that shot across the bow, Gilmore’s resolution certainly brings the point home. Love’s words also again reinforce the trope that all African-Americans in Nashville hold the same position. I can’t remember the last time I read something that assumed that all whites in the city would respond in a similar fashion if a certain event occurred. Why can we accept that all white citizens don’t hold the same positions on issues, but easily accept that all black citizens hold the same position on issues?

On Thursday, Mayor Briley met with the Hillsboro PAC and the subject of the pending resolution came up. Since I wasn’t in attendance, I can’t speak to the level of endorsement Briley gave the proposed resolution, but numerous sources have confirmed that he did say he believed “the resolution would probably pass.”

Why would he make that assumption? Does he not realize that as the city’s leader, his words have weight? By offering his opinion publicly that the resolution will pass, he gives it an air of legitimacy. How many council members will hear those words and take them as a tacit endorsement? Why not just demure from comment entirely and simply say he’s watching like everybody else. By suggesting that this resolution has legs, he’s reinforcing the belief that Joseph has high-level supporters that make him untouchable and that those who criticize are open targets for retaliation. Right or wrong, leaders’ words are analyzed to determine intent; it’s why the best leaders are so deliberate in their communications.

In the Tennessean article, Jason Gonzales begins by writing, “The Metro Council could intervene in ongoing Nashville school board tensions with a resolution calling for a board member to apologize to the district’s superintendent.” The passage gives the impression that the Metro Council has power over the school board, which is incorrect. Both entities are elected bodies charged with overseeing two different public entities. The sole power the Mayor and the Council have over the School Board is the designation of funding.

The Mayor sets the amount of funding and the council approves it and after that influence ends. Neither the mayor nor council can even ensure that funds go where indicated by the budget. Sure, the Mayor and Council could seek to express their disapproval by cutting funding. Though I question how prudent a move that would be and would likely run the risk of some blowback.

Furthermore, if you believe that an apology brings closure to any of this, you are fooling yourself. Dr. Joseph is committed to humiliating Jill Speering and eventually driving her from the board. Not once in the last year has Dr. Joseph made any kind of effort to heal the relationship, or even to seek out common ground in order to better the district.  Instead, as one African-American remarked to me, he’s decided to channel his inner Suge Knight. He attempted to teach Speering a lesson by canceling a favored program when she first began raising questions, but since that did not work, he’s just ratcheted up the game and now obviously seeks to have her removed from the board. Any apology would, in turn, be used as a tool to reach that end.

It’s my hope that the resolution fails and that council members realize the potential precedent of supporting a resolution that calls for apologizing and the retraction of words written in private text. Which as a side note, I have to ask, how do you even retract a private communication? Do you have to call your friends and say, “Hey, please ignore that I sent that?”

There is nothing in this proposed resolutions that benefit kids. Now if Gilmore wants to propose some resolutions that will benefit kids, I’ve got some suggestions:

  • Council resolves to ensure that MNPS has adequate funding to provide teacher a wage that allows them to reside in Davidson County.
  • Council resolves to provide adequate funding in order that MNPS can fund trauma specialist for all schools.
  • Council resolves to support MNPS in putting achievement and excellence above politics.
  • Council resolves for each council member to spend 2 days a month reading to MNPS classroom.

I doubt I’ll see any of those but one can dream. Until then, like Suge says, if you wanna cross somebody, then do that. Don’t act like it wasn’t you.

QUICK HITS

Yesterday marked the beginning of another series of news stories from Channel 5 investigative reporter Phil Williams. In an attempt to mitigate any potential damage, MNPS communications gurus made the decision to release the entire 19-minute interview with Williams along with an email filled with talking points. The talking points read like Billy Madison describing the industrial revolution, and the video… well, it’s not a good look.

In the video Joseph reveals the following key points:

  • After two years the district has made a decision to no longer use his driver when he could be driving a bus and logging driver time.
  • Joseph has a team that evaluates whether he needs transportation to events or not. Sometimes he vetoes the team.
  • He works 16-17 hours a day.
  • He has a complex job and transportation hasn’t been keeping accurate records for the last two years.

At the end of the interview, Phil Williams asks about whether he has anything he would like us to know about the Performance Matters contract. Joseph tersely answers, “No,” and as Williams begins to formulate a follow-up question, Joseph abruptly ends the interview with a sharp, “I thank you for your time.” He then stands and begins stripping the microphone off.

I don’t know who’s telling him that any of this plays well, but they are not serving him well. I encourage you to watch the whole 19 minutes and form your own opinion.

It’s been repeatedly stated for several years that previous directors all had drivers. Dr. Joseph himself has alluded to such practice, but others have gone even further in making the claim. Former board member, and current CM, Ed Kindall has stood up at countless public meetings and made that assertion. Board Chair Sharon Gentry called out a fellow board member for not being factual when she shared on the board floor that to her recollection, Register never had a driver. As a result of the confusion, Phil Williams decided to ask Register himself. Register issued the following statement in response:

“As you know, my preference when being asked about past practice and comparisons is to not comment. However, I will give you short specific responses to your questions for clarification of some misconceptions about my practice.

“First about use of the leased vehicle. My contract as well as previous contracts with my predecessors was unlimited use of the vehicle, and I assume the same for Dr. Joseph. It was specified in the contract that I originally signed and the practice was discussed and agreed upon with then Chair David Fox.

“I did not use a driver. I always drove myself. I did have a GPS with all schools in it so that I could get from school to school efficiently. My vehicle was picked up each Monday morning at Bransford for routine service by transportation and then returned to the office. I generally held a staff meeting at Bransford on Monday mornings. On occasion when I had to drive on Monday mornings, the service would be re-scheduled. I have tried to recall a time when I needed to use a driver and honestly can not remember a time. On occasion, when I was attending a meeting with others from the central office, I would ride with someone else. More often than not, I would drive and others would ride with me.

“When I traveled, I routinely drove to the airport and had transportation pick up the car, do routine maintenance and keep it at the garage to avoid parking fees and for security of the vehicle. The routine was to park in short-term and they would pick it up shortly after with no parking fees. They would drop the car in the short term parking just before my return flights. It worked very well. It was efficient for my time and actually saved money for parking fees. Scheduling for this type of travel was scheduled in advance for efficiency.”

Monday will bring more reports from Williams. It feels like this is just getting started.

As promised, I’ve got more on the recent DonorsChoose fiasco. You’ll remember in telling teachers that they couldn’t use DonorsChoose anymore, MNPS cited a state comptroller report from the past summer. Since they are citing the state comptroller, it would be a safe assumption that all urban districts in the state are severing ties. And they may be, but here are some stats I’d like to share with you that come directly from the DonorsChoose website and show things in an interesting light:

  • For the 18/19 school year, DonorsChoose helped fund 137 MNPS projects to the tune of $63,647 and impacting 10,111 students.
  • That’s off pace from 17/18 when the donation total was $182,573 and in 16/17 when donations totaled $233,932. In 17/18 projects reached 35,496 students.
  • 51 of this year’s projects were in Literacy. Another 10 were in applied sciences. Hmmm… I thought MNPS had a Literacy and STEAM imitative.
  • Which MNPS schools utilized the DonorsChoose site the most? Rosepark Magnet, STEM, East End Prep, Tom Joy, and Haywood.
  • Memphis stats for 18/19: $305,520 with 555 projects funded and 60,356 students reached.
  • Chattanooga is $60,862 with 23 projects and 12,004 students reached.
  • Knoxville utilizes DonorsChoose to the tune of $136,366 for 224 projects and 27,238 students reached.

Just further food for thought.

Finalists for the MNPS Principal of the Year award are in for middle schools. They are Kisha Cox at Margaret Allen Middle Prep, Tonja Williams from Head Magnet Middle Prep, and Gary Hughes from J.T. Moore Middle Prep. Can’t go wrong with any of them. Thank y’all for your service. In related news, Vanderbilt has released a new study illustrating the important role a principal plays in student outcomes. Per Erin O’Hara, executive director of the research alliance:

“This research further underscores that to close achievement gaps, Tennessee must implement policies at the state and district levels that encourage a more equitable distribution of great principals across Tennessee schools.” 

Congratulations to Overton HS alumni, and University of Oregon safety, Ugochukwu “Ugo” Amadi, for earning the Vince Lombardi Award! The Lombardi Award is given to the best college football player who displays performance, leadership, character, and resiliency. Between Amadi and Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, it’s been an exceptional year for Overton athletes.

Feeling a little proud about this one. Walk Bike Nashville just won a $25K grant that will benefit Amqui ES. Walk Bike Nashville will use the grant to fund a project that combines community engagement, temporary physical traffic calming features, and public art to address issues such as speeding, hard braking, and cell phone use around Amqui Elementary school. The community will explore tactical urbanism solutions that include student-designed yard signs around the school, intersection treatments like traffic circles and rumble strips, and an “art crosswalk” installation to mitigate neighborhood traffic problems by encouraging drivers to slow down and concentrate in the school zone. To win, Walk Bike had to create a video and then get it shared the most on social media. Dad Gone Wild along with 248 other partners shared and therefore propelled them to victory. Well done!

The Tenessee Legislation session is now open and TNEd’s Andy Spear’s is still looking for a defined education plan.

MNEA elections are officially open, and with the opening, comes some new blood. In my estimation, exciting new blood. From their Campaign page: 

Amanda Kail- President
Michele Sheriff- Recording Vice President
Paula Pendergrass- Treasurer

LeRoy Castle- High School Director
Taylor Biondi- Itinerant District-level Director
Kellee Hill- Nominations and Elections Commission
Christina Brumleve- Nominations and Elections Commission

Our core values are:

1. Being member-driven. We are committed to engaging our members and letting their priorities and voices drive our work as leaders, as well as continuously growing and celebrating new leadership.
2. Transparency in governance. We will be intentional in soliciting member feedback and keeping our members informed of our decisions and our work through open, clear, and effective communication.
3. Community Engagement. We will build strong coalitions with key community organizations and ensure that teachers’ voices are heard within our common work to create positive change in our communities.
4. Defending public education and the teaching profession. We will be strategic and proactive in our work to defend our public schools, our students, and our profession.
5.Our overall campaign message is we>me. We believe strongly that in order to grow our association, we need to focus on growing our collective power. This is about more than one individual candidate, rather this is about how working together makes us stronger.

In my opinion, teachers won’t find better advocates.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of a teacher of year announcements. 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. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER VERSE SAME AS THE FIRST

“Who wants to hear about brave deeds when he’s ashamed of his own, and who likes an open, honest tale from someone he’s deceiving?”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

“Anyone with gumption and a sharp mind will take the measure of two things: what’s said and what’s done.”
Seamus Heaney, Beowulf

Here we go again. The first year Dr. Joseph arrived from Maryland, the weather turned bad and people turned to leadership for… well, leadership. Leadership dropped the ball.

Dr. Joseph was the new guy and so people were quick to defend.

“It’s a hard call to make.”

“You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

“He’s new to town. He didn’t understand how we are impacted by the weather.”

Dr. J emerged from the incident pretty unscathed. Everybody vowed to give him another chance. Because there is going to be a learning curve, right?

Fast forward a year and inclement weather comes up once again. And once again… fumble.

Fast forward to year three, this morning, and once again streets are covered with snow and once again… fumble.

At some point, you have to wonder why no one seems to be learning anything. Why does the process never seem to improve? Based on today’s handling of inclement weather, I’d say the only lesson learned is that since no matter what you do people are going to be critical, you might as well do nothing. Because that’s the approach the district employed.

Not a word to teachers. Not a word to students. Not a word to parents. No call outs. No emails. No social media posts. Just silence. Even as districts around us canceled and parents communicated the treacherous road conditions.

Snow started falling throughout the district around 5 AM. Parents and teachers who were up turned to social media and the local news to see what the plan was for the day. They were greeted by crickets. There was no communication from the district until 8:35 AM, when the district’s former public information officer, now communications backbencher, Michelle Michaud tweeted out:

This morning, we had unexpected blast of winter weather in areas across Davidson Cty. MNPS puts the safety of students & employees at the forefront of all weather decisions. We encourage families & employees to keep their safety in mind when traveling in hazardous conditions.

To be fair, we should be grateful that Michaud took the initiative because it was a full 10 minutes later before an official statement from MNPS came out. One that was completely nonsensical:

Hello MNPS families,
This morning, we had an unexpected blast of winter weather which resulted in a dusting of snow over many areas across Davidson County. Our Transportation team was out early assessing the roads to determine whether they were safe to pass. Our team works closely with Metro Public Works to salt areas of concern. MNPS puts the safety of our students and employees at the forefront of all weather-related decisions. We also always encourage families and employees to keep their personal safety and well-being top of mind when considering travel in hazardous conditions.
When schools are closed or delayed, information will be shared in a number of ways: 1) calls to families; 2) announcements on the district’s Twitter and Facebook pages; 3) announcements on the district’s webpage, and 4) through local media outlets.
For questions, please call (615) 259-INFO. 
I guess the thought was that since schools were not closed or delayed, there was no need to communicate. Right?
Does anybody out there really believe that MNPS “puts the safety of our students and employees at the forefront of all weather-related decisions”? One more example of district leadership thinking that just saying something makes it true.  As one parent put out in a tweet: 
No communications at all from engenders bad feelings & further breakdown of trust for parents & teachers.
In the past I’ve written about the unwritten expectation that teachers will sacrifice weekends to work unpaid hours for the good of kids. Here’s another example of unwritten expectations. Nobody from the district makes a single attempt to assuage teachers fears, concerns, or even express appreciation. It is just assumed that teachers will risk financial cost – car accident, slip and fall necessitating medical treatment – in order to show up and take care of kids. Not a word is communicated because why should it be? Teachers have shown over and over that they will sacrifice above and beyond without recognition, so there is no reason to acknowledge. We’ll just hand out some J Crew and Starbuck gift cards on Teacher Appreciation Day and call things square.
Unfortunately, not all teachers were able to make it today. One quadrant alone is indicating over 100 teachers missing. So what’s the brilliant leadership strategy to counter those absences? Central office folks are being sent out to fill in where they can. Which results in more people being put in a dangerous position. Furthermore, nothing says essential positions like being used as classroom subs, not to mention the message that teaching is an easily replaceable job. Don’t any of those central office folk have their own responsibilities to take care of? Are they really capable of meeting the standards set by regular classroom teachers?
AARTS’s reported to Martin Center for meetings this morning only to be instructed halfway through the morning that they would need to go to schools to assist with shortages. Apparently, it’s not enough to put them at risk one time, twice is the charm.
As I write this piece, the following words scroll across my social media feed:
And here’s why educators continue to get screwed. I’m going to school because of guilt. I cannot let my school kids and coworkers down on principle. Damn it all to Hell. It makes me so angry with Metro and with myself.
Let’s be honest. The whole day is just an exercise in futility. There is no rigor taking place today. We are putting people at risk for a day of warehousing. That’s the sad uncomfortable truth, and one district leadership seems comfortable with.
I understand that for some students, school is the only safe place where they can also get a meal. But let’s deal with that as a separate issue and develop a plan that utilizes more community resources and doesn’t put the burden solely on the back of teachers and administrators.
But will anything change? Already the defense of “surprise storm,” “unpredictable weather,” “Damned if you do and damned if you don’t” are springing up. I’m sure a few people will trot out the “Jesse Register” complaints as justification for once again failing to keep people safe. My personal favorite though is, “Parents can always choose to keep their kids home, you know what’s best.” If I know what’s best, why am I not the one getting paid $300k a year? No need to hire a director since I know best.
This is all symptomatic of what I’ve struggled with over the past year. Maybe this is the best we can do. Maybe my expectations are too high and I should just accept that this is what it is. I don’t know, but what I do know is that if nobody holds this administration responsible, nothing will change. And as it is, there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of people willing to hold the director and his team accountable. And if you do, you run the risk of being painted as a racist. That is not a healthy combination.
If we continue to not hold people accountable, then we get the system and the leadership we deserve. I’m reading a book on leadership by General McChrystal called Leaders: Myth and Reality. In it, he talks about leadership myths. Per McChrystal:
We say that leadership is the process of driving groups of people towards outcomes. That’s true, to a point, but it’s much broader than that. In reality, leadership describes what leaders symbolize more than what they achieve. Productive leadership requires that followers find a sense of purpose and meaning in what their leaders represent, such as social identity or some future opportunity. 
The other myth he discusses is the formulaic Myth:
In our attempt to understand process, we strive to tame leadership into a static checklist, ignoring the reality that leadership is intensely contextual, and always is dependent upon particular circumstances. 
I think it’s pretty evident that as a district, MNPS is suffering from both of these myths. The leadership team of an educational system should be able to model learning, and this administration has not. Leadership needs to compel people to aspire to greater heights, and this team has not. A leadership team needs to provide role models of excellence, and this team has not.  It’s about time we start dealing with reality. Or we just accept that this is the best it’s going to be and move on. In the end, the choice belongs with each of us.
WHAT’S A RETREAT AND WHAT’S A COMMITTEE MEETING?
You might remember that a couple of weeks ago, MNPS’s school board voted to televise all committee meetings but not retreats. There was some gobbledy gook about how that anonymity was needed in order to ask the hard questions.
Looking at the board calendar and it seems that there is a retreat scheduled for this coming Saturday from 10:00 until 12:00 to discuss budget advocacy. Hmmm… forgive me, but that sounds an awful lot like a committee meeting. They wouldn’t be scheduling a retreat instead of a committee meeting in order to avoid cameras, would it? Nah… this is the most transparent administration evah.
In keeping with that spirit, it was announced last week that those wishing to speak before the board would now be able to do so by signing up online. The good news is that the deadline has been changed to the day before the meeting on the second Tuesday of the month, but with the new sign up process comes with some new caveats as well. Per the MNPS website:

Here are some protocols and processes that apply when addressing the MNPS Board:

  • Please be a few minutes early to check the speaking order on the agenda. Staff members will be present to assist you if needed.
  • All speakers are limited to three minutes. The length of time may change at the chair’s discretion.
  • Your name will be listed in speaking order on the screens in the board room. Please be alert and at the microphone when the previous speaker finishes. Your time begins when the previous speaker finishes. Any additional time it takes you to walk to the microphone may count as part of your time.
  • You should begin your comments by stating your name and your address (or school assignment for MNPS employees) for the record. For example, “Good evening Chair, members of the board, and Dr. Joseph. My name is John Citizen and my address is 123 School St. in Nashville.” It is important that we have your contact information in case follow-up in necessary.
  • Avoid repeating points made by other speakers. Board members appreciate any new information you can present.
  • During your comments please be mindful to not disclose any information that could jeopardize the privacy rights of any students, faculty, or staff members.
  • You may not distribute materials, printed or otherwise, directly to board members during the meeting. If you would like to distribute materials please submit these by bringing 20 printed copies to the meeting. Staff will distribute the material as deemed appropriate by the chair.
  • You are not required to speak for the full time. If you complete your thoughts early that is fine.
  • At the close of your comments simply say, “Thank you for your time,” and return to your seat.
  • If you would like to contact board members outside of the board meeting visit http://www.mnps.org to find contact information.

The first red flag for me is that in both signing up, and upon speaking, a speaker must give their home address. Huh? Why? Based on the climate of the last several board meetings, how many potential speakers would demure based upon fear of divulging that information? Remember at a recent meeting a speaker who was critical of the director was barely permitted to finish uninterrupted because of people in the gallery. In the past, speakers would divulge the individual school they were affiliated with, and it seemed to work just fine.

I’m sure the defense from MNPS leadership will be that the director just wants to meet with speakers individually to gain a better understanding. But as evidence of retaliation – sexual harassment lawsuits, program cuts, and favoritism – mount, how many will see a different intent?

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to former MNPS teacher Cicely Woodard for being a recipient of this year’s Horace Mann Award for Teaching Excellence.  She is one of 5 recipients that will be honored at NEA’s Gala on Friday, 2/8. You can join in celebrating them by tuning in to the live stream of the Gala at

Blogger and teacher Peter Greene has an interesting take on the national teacher shortage. Per his latest:

There is no teacher shortage.

There’s a shortage of willingness to invest the profession with respect and support. There’s a shortage of willingness to make the jobs appealing enough to attract and retain all the people schools want to attract and retain. There’s a shortage of will to make the job appealing enough to hold onto the people who start out. There’s a shortage, not just of money, but of respect and support and empowerment.

There is no mystery to what is happening, but to deal with effectively, to actually face it, the People In Charge need to stop calling it what it is not.

There is no teacher shortage.

I urge you to read the whole piece.

Nashville blogger Vesia Hawkins writes this week about the pending deadline for MNPS’s School Choice process. It’s a good read and I urge you to check it out.

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. 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.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

WHAT’S THE NUMBER?

“Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition”
Timothy Leary

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might not get there.”
Yogi Berra

So let’s talk about teacher compensation. Let’s talk about teacher recruitment and retention. Let’s talk about supply and demand. Let’s hold some committee meetings and discuss culture and climate.

Maybe we should put together a few surveys to “gain a better understanding” of the subject.

“The problem wasn’t created overnight, we can’t expect it to be solved overnight either.”

“We have a lot of other areas that need funding as well, just give the money to us. We’ll make sure teachers get it.”

“Employees received a 3% raise and a step increase during the 2016-2017 school year.”

“We see this as a jumping off point. We would strongly recommend that we figure out a set of tools to support employees, and staff and this board, in having this conversation with a variety of constituents. We all need to be on the same page sharing with people what our budgetary concerns and what the impact on teacher retention is, and ultimately the learning impacts on our students.”

In Nashville, Tennessee that’s what the conversation around teacher compensation sounds like. More talk. More surveys. More task forces. More PowerPoint presentations. And if last year is any indication, less money.

To be honest I am at a loss why. there is a perfect storm brewing this year for substantial teacher raises in Nashville. One that for the most part people are letting go by untapped.

This year Nashville has a mayor supposedly looking for re-election. Several current council members looking for election to an at-large term. We have a director of schools looking for a new contract. A group of Interfaith Ministers looking to help him get that contract. There is a school board in desperate need of a win and a union that needs to show it is still relevant. All of these folks should for all intents be currying favor with teachers, yet there doesn’t seem to be rush to get anything done.

You ever see that episode of Taxi where Jim gives Louie a blank check from his father in order to right a wrong? Louie spends several minutes trying to decide what the perfect number should be in order to get the most bang for the buck. That’s what things should be looking like right now in the offices of elected officials across the city.

Teachers present a not insignificant voting block. You take those directly employed and then add in spouses, parents, friends, church members, civic club members, etc…and you are talking a substantial number of voters. When I was out campaigning for school board, nothing was more effective than a teacher recommendation. You’d be amazed at how much influence teachers have over neighbors. But you only have influence if you use it.

Right now some may be raising the argument that I lost my race, so that shows that teachers don’t have as much influence as you might think. If you are a politician do you really want to play chicken with that supposition? Because if you are right then the same thing that happens every year transpires; teachers go another year without a raise. But if you lose, you lose…your seat. Teachers and their supporters need to remember the old basketball rule, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” It’s time to take a shot.

To be certain, there is a very small window of opportunity here. Next year’s budget season will not have a mayor seeking election. There will be no at-large councilmen looking for greater influence. There will be no superintendent looking for a contract and no motivation for clergy to band behind him. There will be no school board members looking for something to prove and unless something drastic happens, union influence will continue its steady decline.

In short, teachers will be relying solely on the good faith that people will do the right thing and increase salaries. How’s that good faith thing worked out in the past? It’s been my experience that without leverage, good faith is slow to the table.

Here’s an added wrinkle to the compensation conversation. All indications point to state legislators recognizing that teachers need to be better compensated and they are ready to address that issue. The big question for them right now is, how do we make sure that the money gets in the desired hands of teachers. They’ve grown wise to the trick of local education agencies taking the money that the legislators allocate for teachers and using it elsewhere. In their pursuit of ideas on ways to get more money to teachers, they may want to look towards Indiana which is already exploring several options.

One thing that could be a huge help would be if the state set the teacher reimbursement level in the BEP to the actual average salary of a teacher in Tennessee, around 53K. In case you are not familiar, the state pays a set level of reimbursement back to the individual districts for teachers salaries. Here’s some more info per the TNDOE fact sheet,

Many districts pay salaries that average more than the salary unit cost. The first BEP salary unit cost of $34,680 was 79.3 percent of the statewide average instructional salary paid by districts in 2004-05 and 91 percent of the statewide weighted average salary, a figure that adjusts for variances in district salaries due to staff education and experience levels.G Since 2004-05, the General Assembly has passed increases in the salary unit cost eight times; the most recent was in 2016, when it was increased to $44,430.12 In 2015-16, the salary unit cost was 82.4 percent of the state’s estimated average instructional salary and 95.6 percent of the weighted average salary.

So if a teacher is making 46K and the state is reimbursing 44k, then the local LEA is only responsible for 2K. Get it?

Legislators have discussed for several years this idea of making the reimbursement rate the average rate of teacher salaries throughout the state, but at the end of the day, it just never seems to get done. Changing this figure would be a huge help because any money allocated through the BEP based on the teacher reimbursement number has to be dedicated to teacher salaries. Furthermore, there is nothing to prevent districts from applying the savings to teacher salaries, thereby making 5% or even higher entirely feasible. Hopefully, this is something state legislators are considering.

Turning back locally, the compensation committee report at last week’s school board meeting was very informative. It addressed some important areas of need – Veteran’s Day pay, exceptional pay, voluntary workshop, and training pay. Arguably these areas should have been covered by the collaborative conferencing that produced the recent MOU, but I still think those teachers who sacrificed their time should be commended for their work. They shared a ton of great information and I know they’ve been very diligent at keeping the issue on the front burner. Which is where it has to remain.

The problem is that when you are conducting a compensation study and management is steering the conversation, those talks tend to produce more recommendations than action steps. Keep in mind that when it comes to the budget, Chief of Staff Dr. Marcy Singer-Gabella ultimately has loyalty to the Director of Schools.

She may emphasize with teachers. She may recognize the need. She may even think it’s a priority. All that doesn’t change the fact that at the end of the day her priorities are Dr. Joseph’s priorities and she has to help craft and pass a budget that reflects those priorities. It’s for that reason that I’ve long felt it best that teachers, be it through MNEA or another entity, have an independent compensation group. One that reflects their priorities and might actually contain action steps. One that will not only study the issue but actively work to improve it.

The lack of action steps offered, in my mind, also speaks to the demographics of the profession. The majority of professional educators are women and as a society, we are very comfortable in preaching patience and affability to women. I wonder how successful that message of patience and sacrifice would be if the profession was dominated by males.

We’ll see where the results of this study go. Maybe they will lead to action. I know the city claims it can’t afford raises. Well, think about your personal life. Could you afford to get married? Could you afford that first house? Could you afford to have children? Or did you just decide it was important and so you found a way to do it? That’s the same strategy that needs to be applied to teacher salaries. This is of a level of importance and a way to bear the cost has to be found because it’s a cost we cannot afford to not bear.

FAREWELL YE OLD TEACHERS

When I was looking at the BEP and the teacher reimbursement number another cylinder dropped into place. Many of us are deeply concerned about the number of veteran teachers leaving the profession. But if you apply a business mentality to the issue, it can be argued that losing veteran teachers is good for the bottom line. The more salaries that you have closer to the reimbursement rate of 44k the more money you have to spend on other needs.

Follow me here for a minute. I arrive at a new district as a superintendent. Surveying the land, I find that I have little excess cash but a fair amount of veteran teachers. Those veteran teachers cost me a whole lot of money and they also could give me a whole lot of headaches. You see veteran teacher know stuff and they have a highly developed bullshit meter. So I think to myself, “Self how do I get more extra money and fewer headaches.” Bingo. Get rid of some veteran teachers.

Now I can’t have my intent obvious, because well, people might not like that. But what if I through my actions subtly send a message that I’m no fan of teachers. I propose a two percent raise and then make them actually fight for an extra 1% to make it 3%. I go ahead and introduce that scripted curriculum while sending a message that most of them wouldn’t no rigor if it bit them in the ass, May I propose some programs – teacher housing, new teacher academies – that only benefit those first-year teachers. Since most teachers are already frustrated, it shouldn’t take long to get the message across.

It may seem like a lot of trouble to go through, but let’s do some math here. Say I’ve got 1500 teachers making 64K a year and I let 500 of those walk out the door. Those teachers are replaced by ones making 44K a year. That saves me…10 million dollars. That doesn’t even include the savings from benefits and health insurance. Not chump change.

Well, I can’t just walk with that money because those younger, less inexperienced teachers aren’t going to be quite as effective unless I get them some help. If there is too much of a dip in quality, some folks might take notice. So I spend a couple million dollars on some scripted curriculum and outside consultants and…walla…instant big savings.

As an added benefit, these new teachers are going to have lower insurance rates, less need for time off, and probably will be even more willing to sacrifice personal time, as they don’t have families yet. Since they don’t have much experience, it’s not likely that they have enough personal data points to question my edicts. Furthermore, they’ll be so busy trying to keep their hair from catching fire, that they’ll be hard pressed to find time to question me, and they’ll be grateful for any support I give them. A lot of wins here.

The challenge will be in finding these young teachers. That’s where Teach for America comes into play. Now, this ain’t the salad days of the last decade when a college graduate was hard pressed to find a job in their chosen field, therefore, making the idea of teaching for a couple of years an attractive one, but don’t think for a moment that TFA has lost the ability to woo a co-ed. I have to look at the current district contract with TFA, but it used to be that the district paid $6500 per teacher. Let’s say that rate is up to 10k as I’ve heard rumored. If TFA has the ability to lure in 200 teachers – I’m skeptical, but let’s suppose – that only costs…2 million. Take  3 in consultants and add the 2 million for TFA to it and I’ve only spent half of my 10 million savings.

Now I still have to come up with another 300 teachers and that’s kind of hard. But what if they didn’t have to go through all that pesky licensing stuff? What if I were able to create an alternative licensing scheme, I mean plan? I bet I could easily run another 200 through that chute and keep my investment rate under a million. I’d be lauded as a visionary and celebrated for my innovative ideas. And I’d still have a savings of around 4 million to do with as I please.

What I just described is not a conspiracy theory, it’s a business plan. One that the business world has utilized for centuries. These days they even have a fancy name for it, disruption theory. You create a perceived crisis and then you turn it to your benefit. Admittedly I’m not a superintendent, nor do I play one on TV. It’s possible that the scenario I just described is nothing but the product of a fanciful imagination. I’ll leave that to you to decide.

The big hole in this disruption plan is that studies overwhelmingly show that experience matters when it comes to teachers. Per a study by the Learning Policy Institute and conducted by Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky

The common refrain that teaching experience does not matter after the first few years in the classroom is no longer supported by the preponderance of the research. Based on an extensive research base, it is clear that teachers’ effectiveness rises sharply in the first few years of their careers, and this upward trajectory continues well into the second and often third decade of teaching. The overwhelming majority of the 30 studies reviewed here (93 percent)—and 100 percent of the 18 studies using the teacher fixed effects methods—reach this conclusion. The effects of teaching experience on student achievement are significant, and the compounded positive effect of having a series of accomplished, experienced teachers for several years in a row offers the opportunity to reduce or close the achievement gap for low-income students and students of color.123 Given this knowledge, policymakers should direct renewed attention to developing a teacher workforce composed of high-ability teachers who enjoy long careers in supportive and collegial schools.

So maybe, just maybe, we need to focus as much attention on retention as we do recruitment. Maybe, just maybe, we should work as hard to hold on to our 10-year veterans as we do our first and second-year teachers. In other words, let’s make it a priority. Again, we can’t afford to not make the required investment.

QUICK HITS

Andrew Jackson Elementary School’s 4th Grade Book Club is beginning a new book called Hidden Figures, the young readers’ edition by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is a story of black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Our fourth-grade students will be meeting during their lunchtime for the next six Wednesdays

McGavock Elementary is looking forward to February with several fun events. Mom, aunts, grandmothers, and others are invited to Moms and Muffins on February 15th from 8:15 – 9:00. Families are invited to dance and enjoy refreshments on February 15th for our Formal Dance from 6:30 – 8:00. Also, McGavock will have Bingo for Books on February 28th at 5:30 where everyone will receive books to take home!

The Croft Campus has been very busy since returning from the winter break. Monday, January 14th Croft hosted the Overton Cluster Parent Advisory Council (PAC). Over 30 parents attended this event and heard from engaging and meaningful speakers. Tuesday the 15th saw the Fall Sports Banquet, and Croft was honored to have Chris Hope as the keynote speaker for the event. Students selected by their home room teacher attended the Second Nine Weeks Bison Bunch field trip to Lipscomb University Thursday, January 17th. The Second Nine Weeks Awards Ceremony on Friday, January 18th honored students at all grade levels.

Tusculum started 2019 with a new routine for the opening of school each day. They are now producing live announcements through SYPE with students serving as news anchors. Tusculum is one of the first schools to use this technology to deliver daily announcements. The Tusculum Family Resource Center (FRC) continues to host multiple classes for families ranging from English classes, nutrition classes, and parenting groups. As the only FRC in the Southwest Quadrant and the Overton Cluster, the staff is grateful to provide this resource for families. The 100th day of school is quickly approaching on January 29. This is a BIG day n the elementary world! This year the entire school will celebrate the learning of the Pre-K and Kindergarten students as they show off their collections of 100 objects in a 100 day parade.

POLL RESPONSES

I tried to have some fun this week with the poll questions and I hope everybody took them in the spirit they were intended. Let’s review.

The first question was born from a conversation I had this past week with a long time administrator that also happened to be African-American, their primary point was that we could argue semantics all day long about Dr. Joseph’s performance and it would never solve anything. But the bottom line is that at this point he has become through his actions, and the actions of others, the most divisive leader in Nashville. To such a level that it was hindering his ability to lead. So I decided to ask the question.

Fifty-seven percent of you felt that Dr. Joseph was the most divisive public figure in Nashville. The number 2 answer surprised me. With nineteen percent, it was the Tennessean’s David Plazas. Interesting note, Plazas heads up the Tennessean’s Civility initiative. Seems to be a bit of a disconnect there, especially when you consider he had double votes as school board member Will Pinkston. Pinkston received nine percent of the votes. It’s good to know freshmen board member Fran Bush is on the case. Here are the write-ins:

TC Weber Phil William Speering Frogge 1
YOU! 1
Joseph 1
carol swain 1
Anyone supporting the defacto APARTHEID that’s afoot in Nashville 1
Carol Swain

Question 2 asked for your opinion on the recent MNPS edict preventing the use of DonorsChoose. Forty-eight percent of you considered a slap in the face of teachers. While an additional twenty-four percent found it to be more policy that hurts kids. Here are the write-ins:

How do you suggest teachers get what they need, Dr. Joseph? 1
Doesn’t make sense 1
I know the way Joseph retaliates against those who offer a voice. 1
Most school systems discourage. This isn’t news 1
I thought they banned it yrs ago 1
Tried at beg of year and was denied. Sad to lose out on materials for teachers. 1
Should be allowed, not micro-managed, reasonable Guidelines, fair audits #easy 1
Just properly fund the district. 1
I can agree IF mnps provides adequate funding 1
Horrible leadership. No communication, just cut off. Incompetent. 1
Sad that teachers need it esp when looking at crazy spending by leadership

Question three came amid reports that both gentleman’s club Deja Vu and MNPS were offering employment options to government workers during the shutdown. It appears you found neither option attractive, as thirty-five percent of you indicated that you would rather starve the pursue either of the other endeavors. Here are those write-ins:

t’s a long, tedious process to officially became a sub. Ridiculous! 1
Wait tables 1
The way the students treat subs? Never in a million years. 1
Stripper Subs Starving? Talk about Dads Gone Wild.. 1
Slurp 1
Or wait tables 4 nights a week and make more than a licensed teacher. 1
Leave Metro for a better place, maybe? 1
my heart hurts that this is even a thing 1
impeach 1
Strike!!! Oh but wait TN teachers aren’t allowed to do that! 1
Be Dr. J’s chauffeur 1
Pay teachers a living wage. 1
Write a blog

That’s a wrap. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s a good news station with lots of inspiring pictures from last week. 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.

If you think what I write has value, please consider supporting the work through Patreon. I’ll be honest with you, January and February are slow bartending months so I could use any support you can throw my way. To those of you who pledged money this past week, thank you, thank you, thank you. Have yourself a great first day back!