Posted in Uncategorized

REFLECTIONS

The clock on the cable box says 2:36 AM. I’m asleep on the couch because I worked late last night, and I didn’t want to disturb my wife when I got home. It was the presence of the little body next to me that woke me and will make it difficult to return to sleep. That body comes in the form of my 7-year-old son, who is prone to coming in and cuddling up to you in middle of the night while you are unaware. I want to send him back to his bed, but I know that these days are finite and I need to cherish each of them for it won’t be long before he’ll be averse to cuddling. So I lay back, enjoy the comfort of him being near, and let my mind wander in reflection.

My thoughts turn to last night and a painful conversation with my daughter. For the last couple years, I’ve worked freelance as a special events bartender and sold property and casualty insurance. It’s a path I’d chosen partially because after a life spent working in middle management jobs, I didn’t want to commit to anymore 50-hour weeks, no flexibility, and nothing but a paycheck and a 401k to show for my efforts. Most importantly, I wanted to be able to set my hours so I would not have to miss my children’s activities. It’s a plan that, despite some challenges, has been working, except when it doesn’t.

Last night, Tusculum Elementary School students performed The Jungle Book. My daughter is performing in it, and due to work, I am missing both performances. It’s not a terribly unique story. Parents all across the city are regularly faced with a similar dilemma. Many of them have to miss things a whole lot more often than I do. That doesn’t make it any easier when your 8-year-old is squared off in front of you telling you that you are choosing money over her. There is no sense explaining either, because… well… at the root of it, she is right.

We all have to make difficult decisions that weigh cost vs. experience. Sometimes we get the balance right and other times it is terribly askew. I messed up on this one. I should have planned better. For whatever reason, I overly focused on the need to pay bills, and I neglected to mark for observation a very important day. Now there was nothing to do but acknowledge my grave mistake, allow my daughter to be mad, and commit to doing better in the future. We can’t be perfect, but we can acknowledge our shortcomings and make every effort to learn from them.

As I lay on the couch reflecting, my mind turned to a mid-week visit to Joelton Middle School. My visit, at the invitation of Dean of Students Elijah Gann, illuminated just how deep the needs are for some of our school populations. Prior to visiting the school, I’d heard the stories detailing Mr. Gann’s alleged shortcomings, and I didn’t know what to make of them. I still don’t. The man I met seemed deeply connected to a school populated by children who needed deeper connections from more adults. He is a man who appears to want to do right for these kids.

Joelton Middle is a school at the outer edge of Davidson County and is made up of about 339 students. It is currently budgeted for 14 teacher positions. Of those 14, two have remained unfilled all year long. Because of its location and challenges, finding substitute teachers is difficult. The existing staff is made up of first- and second-year teachers, and is filled out by Teach For America corps members. Many of those teachers will be leaving at the end of the year.

The school has a large population of children who come from families where at least one parent is incarcerated. Yet they only have a therapist onsite three times per week. The Dean of Students position is being cut next year due to budget constraints. And at this time, it is unclear what the replacement position will look like.

The poverty rate at Joelton Middle sits around 100%. Many of the students are bussed in from the Bordeaux area, a 45-minute bus ride away. This causes challenges with parent engagement. The student body is made up predominately of children of color.

Despite these challenges, it was readily apparent that teachers cared about what happened to these kids. They may be leaving at the end of the year, but right now, these teachers were deeply invested in their students’ success.

The care came across in the physical appearance of the building. I remarked several times about the cleanliness. Maybe it’s the old restaurant guy in me, but the appearance of the facilities communicates so much about what transpires inside the facilities. Joelton Middle’s appearance tells me that in the building, teachers and administrators are still fighting the good fight, but they need help.

After leaving the building, I did some digging and asked some people what the plan was for Joelton. I was told that there has always been a problem getting the funding to address the massive needs of the school. My response was that perhaps before investing millions with outside sources to convert district middle schools to a STEAM curriculum, maybe we should first invest in getting our schools the needed basic supports.

I was told that the plan for the future included the securing of high quality teachers who would collaborate and push students forward. When I asked where these teachers were going to come from, I was told about a job fair that was held last weekend specifically for hiring teachers for priority schools. Think about the irony of that for a minute. We are hiring teachers for a priority school in May. Is there anything that communicates “priority” less than that?

To be fair, this criticism was acknowledged when I brought it up. The goal was to hire teachers in February, but none could be hired until individual school budgets were approved. And those weren’t approved until the beginning of this month.

Dr. Joseph likes to dismiss criticism of this year’s budget process as merely noise and claim that budgets are always messy. Well, this is an instance where his not listening to the “noise” has had a real world negative impact on schools. Not just priority schools either, but all schools. There are many schools that sit just outside the priority school window that have been harmed in the pursuit of shoring up their staff. Teachers tend to like to lock down next year’s assignments early, and the best ones tend to go quickly. Make no mistake – this late start to hiring will have an impact on next year’s performance, or as Dr. Joseph likes to say… those key performance indicators.

Individual educators are attempting to serve the needs of these kids. I believe they are doing the best they can with existing resources, but they need help.

I don’t believe that Joelton is an outlier in the district. We as a district are failing these children, just like I failed my daughter last night. That failure will have long term repercussions, and nothing we can do now can change that. Both myself, and the district, are now presented with a choice. Do we continue to fail these children by using money as an excuse and putting our priorities first? Or do we acknowledge our shortcomings and get serious about not making the same mistake again? Looks like both MNPS and I both have some self-evaluating to do.

BLOW THE WHISTLE (NSFW)

Yesterday morning, I was doing some insurance work when I got a message from an attendee at the weekly MNPS principals meeting that made reference to Oakland rapper Too $hort. Puzzled, I looked at it and dismissed it. What the… why are we referencing an highly obscene, semi-obscure rapper from 1985?

Then, I got another text from a different individual. This was getting really weird. When I got the third text from a third source, it started to dawn on me. Dr. Joseph must have referenced Too $hort in the principals meeting. Troubling, but whatever. I fired off a response asking if that was the case, only to be informed that no, he didn’t reference the rapper. Instead, he played a snippet of his song, “Blow the Whistle.” Now he didn’t play the part with objectionable words, but the song includes the following lyrics,

And I’m still gon’ yell it every time you see me in
What’s my favorite word?
BITCH!
Why they gotta say it like $hort?
BITCH!
You know they can’t play on my court
Can’t hang with the big dogs
Stay on the porch

Some of you may not be familiar with Too Short. Let’s Google. Wikipedia will give you a little insight, but not the full story. As for me, I’m very familiar with Too $hort and the prurient nature of his music. Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I used to listen to Too $hort because I thought it was titillating and I thought it made me cutting edge. But at age 53, I recognize Too $hort for what he is, obscene and misogynistic.

Too $hort is well aware of the nature of his work. This particular song comes from the album of the same name, Blow the Whistle, which starts off with these lyrics (from “Call Her a Bitch”) and acts almost as a disclaimer for the album, as $hort explains to the listener: “One thing’s for sure… You will get called a bitch… bitch / So motherfuckin’ fast – bitch / Short Dog’s in the house… beotch!” According to Wikipedia, “Blow the Whistle,” the second song on the album, is considered a staple at American strip clubs.

In all fairness, the song “Blow the Whistle” has been also used by the NBA, and it went viral recently when it was paired in a video with a spin class. In other words, it does have some mainstream appeal.

I recognize that we have an African American as the Director of Schools, and as such, he’s going to, at times, possibly reference hip hop culture. Too $hort is not a reference that I would give the same credence to as Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, or Tupac. Perchance that is due to my whiteness and the aforementioned artists who have crossed over. I’m willing to acknowledge that, but in the same vein, I think you have to know your audience, and I don’t think it would have been appropriate had Jesse Register addressed principals after playing “Sweet Home Alabama” either.

I also acknowledge that what one culture may find offensive, another may respond to in a different manner. There has been a long ongoing debate about how African Americans’ use of the word “nigger” is a means to rob it of its power. It’s a conversation worth having, but at the end of the day, it’s not a word that should be part of our vernacular. As Malcolm-Aime Musoni says in his piece for The Huffington Post in reference to white people’s use of the word, “If you want to say ‘nigga’ then be ready to get treated like one and if you don’t then keep that one syllable five letter word out of your mouth unless you’re ready to be crossed up by some ‘niggas’ who aren’t like that token black friend who lets you call them one.” When it comes to a professional environment, that advice should probably apply to everyone.

I would argue the same holds true for the word bitch, which is liberally sprinkled through the Too $hort song that Joseph played for the principals. Supporters of Too $hort argue that his liberal use of the word bitch robs it of its power. Does it really do that? Or does it just anesthetize us to the ugliness ingrained in the word?

Is a principals meeting the proper vehicle to address language and its impact on culture? Is there not enough important work that needs to be addressed that time can be afforded not to be extremely deliberate in our communication? I think it is safe to say that the song became the focus of his message and some important points were lost as a result of not being given their needed priority. In the aftermath, more time has been devoted to discussing the appropriateness of the song than to the strategy related to the budget crunch. Part of that strategy involved how to communicate budget cuts to staff and were in themselves a little questionable.

Where I come from, we call that a distraction and it runs counter to Dr. Joseph’s claim of an administration that is really good at focusing.

Further complicating matters is that MNPS has had a high number of sexual misconduct cases brought against it this year. Before he actually played the song, Dr. Joseph referenced playing it in his head when board meetings get too difficult. Board meetings where two women have been awfully hard on him as of late. It’s not a stretch to connect the “bitch” references in the song to those two women at the board meeting.

As a former literacy specialist, Dr. Joseph has to understand that words have meaning. Words contribute to culture. I would argue that referencing a Too $hort song at a principals meeting could signal a cavalier attitude about women which is now being borne out by how many sexual misconduct cases have been handled this year.

Yesterday, also at the principals meeting, an Executive Director who resigned this year almost immediately after coming off administrative leave – which was a result of sexual misconduct charges – was signaled out for recognition. It was a little awkward.

Word on the street is that the administration is unhappy about the manner in which allegations against another former Executive Officer were handled. They feel that person should have never been forced to resign. Several of the people involved in the bringing of the complaint against the former EO now find themselves without employment for next year. One of the people who brought the complaint forth is taking the place of the former EO.

Are the perceptions legitimate? I don’t know. But I do know that when the Director of Schools plays a bit of a blatantly misogynist song at a principals meeting, it lends credence to those whispers.

When Dr. Joseph failed to rebuke a fraternity brother who, during public comment, compared board conduct to a public lynching, he sent a message. When he played “Blow The Whistle,” albeit an edited version, he sent another message.

In a recent interview with Channel 5, Dr. Joseph referenced his ongoing troubles with board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge by saying, “When board members sling mud, children get dirty.” I would take that statement even deeper and say when rhetoric is elevated, communities get destroyed.

Nashville is in a very fragile place these days. Unchecked growth has caught up to us and leaders have disappointed us. We are a city in search of leadership that will help us heal. That means using words and evoking images that will bring us together, not drive us further apart. The coming days will bring many, as Obama used to say, “teachable moments.” Our leaders need to be very cognizant of what they are teaching and promoting.

QUICK HITS

Principal hires continue to leak out. Clarissa Zellers has been named the new principal for Antioch High School despite having no previous experience as a principal. Hopefully things will work out better than they did with the previous principal. I know that Antioch HS is ready to move onward and upward.

Yesterday, in search of a positive story, I sat down with former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine to discuss his past as an MNPS student and principal along with his family’s recently completed trip around the world. Look for that interview in the coming weeks.

Nashvillian Bill Freeman recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Tennessee Tribune. I urge you to read it.

Chalkbeat TN asks the question: Now that testing is over, what’s next?

This year, TNDOE created a seal of bi-literacy for graduating high school students. The seal appears on a graduating senior’s diploma and shows that they are literate in at least two languages. Many states have enacted such a program this past year. I think it’s a fantastic idea. Unfortunately, the requirements to Tennessee’s seal are stringently tied to TNReady. It’d be nice if we could expand the requirements, like they did in Denver.

Miya Robertson, a drama teacher at Gower Elementary School, is the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, an annual award honoring an educator who uses the arts to inspire learning, build community, and foster excellence in teaching.

Summer is almost here! Do you have your child registered for a camp? Check out our list of summer programs here: http://bit.ly/2IfQLqY

Need to give a quick tip of the hat the Nashville Chamber’s Marc Hill who is heading to Kansas City. While I don’t think Marc was ever a fan of mine, and I have certainly been critical of his work, his impact on Nashville is undeniable and worthy of a hearty thank you.

As predicted, the grim reaper is walking the halls of central office. Already today, Craig Ott, Vanessa Garcia, and Terry Schrader have felt the sting of his scythe. In an effort to reduce the budget shortfall, their jobs have been eliminated.

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

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

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized

WORDS FROM BILL FREEMAN

This is a piece written by Bill Freeman for the Tennessean Tribune that I feel deserves a reprint. If you are not familiar with Freeman, I urge you to do your homework. He’s a businessman, a philanthropist, a father, a past mayoral candidate, and above all, a concerned and active citizen who has always been willing to back up his words with action.

I am concerned with the painful challenges that the new public schools budget will cause. Despite board approval for a budget that will increase when other city department budgets are being trimmed, our schools will still see cuts and eliminations of important and necessary services. The path to this contentious budget was rocky and full of problems. 

In all honesty, I cannot recall in recent memory when a MNPS budget development and review was more error-filled, contentious and problematic.  

Under Dr. Joseph’s new $924 million budget that accounts for practically half of the entire budget for all of Metro Nashville, he put many budget cuts on the table, each one as worrisome as the one before it.  

First, we were told that free lunch to our students was at risk of elimination. Taking food out of the mouths of hungry children? That is absurd. And wrong. Following a deserved uproar, that option was removed from the table nearly as quickly as it was put on.

Then we were told that we would lose social workers during the most trauma-filled season of life that nearly any of us can recall. After heated and passionate discussion by the very social workers who were facing elimination and those teachers, parents and educators who vouched for the urgent need for social workers, that option was removed.   

Then, the painful decision was made to eliminate Reading Recovery, the very program that has been in place for years and is designed to help the reading skills of our students—so many of whom come to school hungry, homeless or speaking a language other than English. Because of this action, I am very worried that our academic support underpinnings will be severely hampered. Yes, we must make sure our students are not hungry and feel safe and loved. That’s step one. It’s only then that they can productively learn. But learning is the entire foundation of school. Without the ability to read well, learning and success will be limited for that child’s entire adult life.

However, I am even more disturbed at the issues that this problematic budget process has uncovered. We are hearing reports of mismanaged funds, of contracts being enacted without board approval and stipends and boondoggle trips being paid for by outside interests and subjective companies seeking influence over our schools.  

Despite the success and growth that Nashville is touting these days, we are facing a budget shortfall. Every department must face hard choices. Our Chamber of Commerce continues to support the growth of middle Tennessee over the growth of Nashville. Our small businesses must fight for survival without the protection that small businesses need to grow and thrive. Yet, among the challenges that face all of us in Nashville, you would expect to see honest dialogue and partnering with each other for as absolutely as long as possible to get the job done. You don’t start slinging mud at the first tough question. You don’t call names when others ask for answers to hard but fair questions. You don’t retaliate when you don’t like something. But it certainly happened during this budget review process. 

This is a problem in the extreme. I joined all of Nashville with the hope that Dr. Joseph brought with him when he was first hired. He promised to a partner with the school board, with schools, with parents and with students. We have seen some good work come from his team in the past two school years, but there are signs of trouble that every Nashvillian should be worried about.

Rev. Enoch Fuzz, one of our most treasured ministers, spoke persuasively and bluntly at the school board’s public hearing on April 12, 2018. He spoke of the importance to protect children all the way through school and, to put it plainly, that we needed to put our money where our mouth is. He spoke to Dr. Joseph and the board when he said, “I don’t like to hear you say, ‘Cut budgets.’” He went on to speak frankly about the board’s previous comments about the acceptable lack of graduation rates and college acceptance. Dr. Fuzz took them to task when he said, “There are 15 boys in our church in college. We don’t say, ‘College is not for everybody’ at our place.”

Most importantly, Rev. Fuzz reminded all of us the importance of making sure our values are reflected in our spending. He reminded everyone of former Vice President Joe Biden, who said, “Don’t tell me what you value. Show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.” Dr. Fuzz put it to them squarely when he used his own personal example of taking a pay cut in years past. He said, “Any public employee who’s making six figures who can’t take a four-figure pay cut, you don’t tell me that children are important. Our children are important. You make six figures and you can’t take a four-figure pay cut for a couple of years to help get things on track, you don’t care about no children. You care about yourself.”

As encouraged as I was to hear Rev. Fuzz’ honest and heartfelt words, I was equally as dismayed to see the divisiveness that occurred over this budget process. Not two days before Rev. Fuzz spoke so encouragingly and Rep. Harold Love, Jr. showed his support for the board and this difficult budget season, Michael Milliner of the local Gamma Phi chapter of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity had some low blows to deliver.  

He twisted honest questions put to Dr. Joseph by board members into allegations of being bought by outside special interests, accused them of racist actions and even implied that they had attempted to derail the selection process of Dr. Joseph because of the color of his skin. Well, the truth of the matter is that School Board member Amy Frogge and Vice Chair Jill Speering – the very women that Milliner had such ugly words for – were the two women who had recommended interviewing Dr. Carol Johnson for the Director of Schools position.  She happens to be an African-American woman and a fine educator who led Boston’s public school system. So why would Milliner accuse Frogge and Speering of racist behavior, when their actions are anything but? It was wrong of Milliner to accuse them of untoward behavior and come close to threatening them, if you ask me. He said repeatedly to each of these two board members, “We will not forget” when he called them by name with every accusation he made.  

I’m sure it was horrifying to these board members to be accused of such a thing, when their entire focus has always been to improve Nashville’s schools so that all students can thrive. MNPS has a decidedly diverse student body coming from all walks of life and from all racial and ethnic groups. Our diversity is what makes us strong, and I would never question anyone on our school board’s commitment to their job, and I certainly wouldn’t accuse them of racist behavior. That was uncalled for. 

When Nashville must struggle for every dollar we make and every budget decision must be made carefully, this is not the time to hit below the belt. When our school board must decide whether to cut social workers or school lunches or reading assistance, they are clearly facing difficult decisions. What is proper is questioning past decisions of outside contractors paid millions through unauthorized purchase orders and gaming the system to avoid board approval. That’s what needs to be questioned—not the ethical behavior of our elected school board members. As Rev. Fuzz said, “You pay for what you want and what you believe in.” We don’t need angry threats and empty accusations. We need productive discussions, consensus and agreement. And most importantly, we need to keep the focus on the success of our children and grandchildren. As school board member Tyese Hunter said when she thanked those who had attended the April 12th meeting, “You all came to us and presented the lives of our children, and that was what we needed to hear during this budget process. More than anything, we needed to know about the lives that – of the decisions that we’re going to make  – that will be impacted by those decisions.”

Bill Freeman is the chairman of Freeman Webb Inc., a real estate investment, management and brokerage company based in Nashville, which he co-founded in 1979. He is a Democratic Party fundraiser, the former treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party, a member of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority, a member of the Board of Trustees for Tennessee State University and was appointed by President Obama to serve on the advisory board of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Posted in Uncategorized

STUDYING THE ROADMAP

This weekend, I did a lot reading on Nashville’s financial situation and the changing of the guard in Prince George’s County Public Schools. The two would seem to have little in common, but I think both offer lessons of value. At the core of both issues are the words spoken by Nashville Mayor David Briley at this year’s State of Metro address: “I do not need to remind you that some of the problems we are trying to solve today are magnified by our own failure to act in the past.” Yes indeed.

The State of Metro speech, over the past decade, has been a celebratory affair. Almost like a kickoff to Derby weekend. The city’s elite deck themselves out in their finest and gather to celebrate Nashville’s pending world dominance. People are moving here at a rapid rate and there was nothing but pots of gold awaiting them when they got here. Or so past addresses would indicate.

We congratulated ourselves on the construction of arenas, convention centers, ball parks, soccer stadiums, and amphitheaters with nothing but perfunctory thought towards infrastructures. I know some of you will read that last sentence and take offense, but before you offer a defense, drive by our schools, drive our roads, and pay the parking costs downtown. For all its glory, I’m not sure the new Nashville is really for Nashvillians anymore. But I digress.

Over the years, I’ve heard whispers in the background questioning how all of this progress was going to get paid for. Those who questioned too loudly were either ignored or labeled as barriers to progress. There was always another bond to be written or money that could be shuffled from pile A to pile D. Therefore cost shouldn’t be a driving concern.

Last year Metro Nashville came up with its newest gimmick. Property values had soared so much in the “IT City” that it was surmised if a citywide reappraisal of properties were conducted, revenues could be increased without actually raising taxes. This was considered a brilliant idea because everyone knows how much residents of Davidson County hate tax increases.

Again, some may object to this strategy being a gimmick and try to defend it. I label it a gimmick because it tries do a good thing – increase revenue – while not mentioning a bad thing – raising taxes. The consensus was that once appraisals were done, the city would have more money. Unfortunately, gimmicks are tricky things and don’t always work as advertised. This one didn’t. The city has ended up with less money, a lot less money.

That’s a hard pill for Nashvillians to swallow. After all, many of us were given the impression that the city was making money hand over fist. Those tax breaks for another corporation weren’t a big deal, we’ll make more. Nine billion for transit, no worries, Amazon is coming. Every expenditure was sold with a promise of how we were going to recoup tenfold, yet here we are and in need of an explanation.

Who would be more qualified to give that explanation than the man who sat ringside to virtually every financial decision over the last decade, Rich Riebeling. But have you seen him lately? Ever since Briley has taken over, you might as well stamp Reibeling’s face on the proverbial milk carton, because there is nary a word from him as of late.

Reibeling was always advertised as the city’s sharpest financial mind. I would think that now would be a time that called out for that mind’s insight. After all, I’ve sat in innumerable community meetings where he belittled people for merely raising questions. Now, when we could really use some of those brilliant explanations, we get crickets. He could be on an island in South of France for all we know.

To his credit, Mayor Briley is facing the challenge head on. I hope that MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph is noticing how it’s Briley who steps to the microphone every time and not some proxy delivering the bad news. Briley does so at considerable personal expense. He’s running for re-election as mayor, and tight budgets seldom translate into increased vote totals. Yet there he is, front and center, taking the heat.

As a result of the city’s finances, Metro Nashville Public School’s allocation of monies will be considerably smaller than requested. To the tune of $40 million dollars.

The biggest hit will be to teachers, as they won’t be receiving a proposed 2.5% raise. It’s a raise teachers need and deserve, but one that Briley would be hard pressed to justify while not giving an equally deserved raise to the city’s police officers and fire fighters.

Last year, I argued that teacher raises should take precedence over investments in STEAM programming and other outside programs. That argument fell on deaf ears and here we are this year, short on money.

I do have to ask, as upset as people are, are they really surprised? I would go further and say that Dr. Joseph’s proposed budget set people up to be disappointed. Listen to any one of his public speeches and you’ll hear him tout his friendship with both Mayor Barry and Mayor Briley. He often comments on how frequently they talk. Yet, apparently neither mayor clued him in on the city’s finances.

Other than the occasional public greeting of “Hello, TC,” neither of the mayors ever talk to me. Yet somehow, I was able to glean enough information to pick up on the fact that there was going to be a lack of money this year and therefore a budget that called for a limited increase in funding. In Joseph’s eyes, an extra $45 million like he asked for may constitute a tight budget. I’d beg to differ.

In my eyes, it’s like me telling you that I’m having trouble meeting my mortgage and you take that as an opportunity to ask me for a $10k loan with the caveat that you really needed $40k and that only asking for the 10 was an acknowledgement that I was broke.

I get that there are certain obligations that make it hard to not ask for additional funds. But just like with the recently-ended free meals for all kids program, there should have been recognition of the pending challenges and talks ignited to address those. Asking for an extra $45 million is not an indicator that those talks ever transpired. Especially in light of recent revelations that an extra $25 million is required just to meet charter school growth requirements and pension expenses.

Again, the losers here are the students and teachers. Not only did Joseph allow teachers to labor under the misconception that raises were a possibility, but in order to generate cover for canceling Reading Recovery, Joseph doubled down on expectations by raising the ask to 2.5%. Either he wasn’t listening to what the mayor was saying or he was too infatuated with his own agenda to care. Neither reason should be acceptable.

As far as students go, remember the touting of increased participation in advanced academics and how this success was a result of the district paying for required end-of-course tests? Yeah, well, early indications are that won’t be the case this coming year. You have to love how we brag about the success with one side of our mouth while cutting the financing with the other.

I’m willing to chalk up some of the budget problems to Dr. Joseph’s inexperience. I know what you’re saying: “He’s no rookie. He’s got 25 years in education.” That sounds great if you say it fast. The reality is that he only has 3.5 years of experience as a superintendent. And 18 months of that time was spent in a school district made up of 6 schools. For the sake of comparison, that’s less than half the number of schools in the Maury County School District.

Joseph’s tenure in Seaford, Delaware, is one that can only be described as a flame out. A flame out that can be attributed to a overinflated budget. Joseph submitted a budget based on the premise that residents would be so enamored with his leadership that they would approve a tax hike. That presumption would prove inaccurate, and Joseph split for Montgomery County, failing to honor his whole contract and leaving the remaining leaders to fix the issues caused by his initiatives. Equity now!

The reality is that Dr. Joseph is little more than a novice when it comes to heading up a large urban distract and that includes the construction of a budget with the magnitude of Nashville’s. The MNPS school board is made up of people individually with equal or more experience in the formation of a large urban school district’s budget. Joseph might argue that he sat to the right of Kevin Maxwell in Prince George’s County Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the country, during the drafting of their annual budget. But that opens up the door for further examination of exactly he learned under the tutelage of Dr. Maxwell.

Ninety-five percent of Shawn Joseph’s experience in education comes through his tenure at Prince George’s County Public Schools and its neighbor, Montgomery County Public Schools. He taught in those districts. He became an administrator in those districts. He became a leader in those districts. It’s safe to say the majority of what he knows about running a large urban school district is derived from his experiences at both PGCPS and MCPS. Two school districts that are very different from Nashville.

In the wake of PGCPS CEO Kevin Maxwell’s recent resignation announcement, people have taken the opportunity to review his tenure, and let’s just say, it ain’t pretty. The last several years under Maxwell’s leadership, PGCPS has seen only slight progress while being hampered by ceaseless controversy. Granted, much of that controversy stems from their governance model – the majority of the school board is appointed and the County Director appoints the school’s CEO – which is, again, decidedly different than Nashville’s model.

I would argue that their model, and the pitfalls that have befallen Maxwell, does illustrate potential perils if the MNPS school board continues to take a largely hands-off role. There is already evidence that many of those complications that have befallen PGCPS – like selective and secretive compensation for central office staff, lack of transparency, failure to take accountability, lack of response to parents – have already begun to raise their head in MNPS.

It is only natural for our actions to emulate our influences. At times, though, that emulation can prove detrimental to our success. That’s where we need those with more experience to step in and offer guidance.

However, it is equally important to not remain so ingrained in our past that we fail to recognize a better way to do things. As they say, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As in everything, balance is essential.

When I examine instances that have ended in catastrophe, I’m often struck by the fact that the resulting conclusion wasn’t inevitable.  There were many exit ramps on the road to the dumpster fire. With a little self-examination, adjustments could have been made in order to avoid calamity. Abject failure is seldom a certainty. But you have to be willing to recognize an exit ramp when you see it and be willing to take it.

Hopefully, Nashville is beginning to read the roadmap that is being laid out. Hopefully, our leaders are choosing the best routes. Briley’s unwillingness to go into the fund balance in order to avoid taking a risky political position is a positive sign. Hopefully, they are keeping their eyes focused on the road ahead, while not losing sight of what’s in the rearview mirror. As always, time will tell. Time will tell.

QUICK HITS

Principal assignments for next year are starting to leak out, and the reception to those assignments is proving to be a little less than enthusiastic. I applaud the idea of allowing community members to be a part of the hiring process, but that means they can’t be just for show. Mama taught me a long time ago, don’t mess with a person’s money or time. Calling someone in for something that proves to consistently be nothing but a dog and pony show does the latter. Nothing breeds animosity like making someone believe they have some power and then demonstrating that they are powerless.

Is anybody else wondering why, within 6 months of arriving in Nashville, Dr. Narcisse was interviewing for positions elsewhere? Dr. Joseph claimed he was bringing in the best and brightest, but I guess he was only renting them. Apparently, even making his wife one of the top 10 highest-paid employees in MNPS isn’t enough incentive to keep Sito off the interview train. Here’s a question: since it’s apparent that Dr. Narcisse is leaving at the first available opportunity, how much effort has been put into training a successor? You know, so we don’t lose any of that hard-won progress. Does anybody remember that movie Hardbodies and the endless pursuit of the BBD? Or the immortal words of Johnny Rotten and the Winterland in San Fransisco?

This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, AKA the one week a year we pretend not to take teachers for granted. I’m not a fan of Teacher Appreciation Week. Not because I don’t appreciate teachers – au contraire – but rather because I think one week isn’t sufficient. 52 weeks would be more appropriate. That said, I know teachers do appreciate your acts of kindness this week and I encourage all to participate.

If you were one of those MNPS educators who were at the Teacher of the Year banquet, and were wondering why Dr. Joseph and his sidekick weren’t in attendance, I have an answer. They were in Chicago, along with several other central office folks, for an SEL conference. Ah, the irony.

State legislators in Colorado have begun to notice the cost of the teacher shortage and this year have dedicated $10 million toward rectifying things. Some very interesting ideas and, I think, a good start.

Remember the Community Eligibility Program? You know, where all kids got fed free lunch and breakfast everyday? The one we will not be participating in next year? A new study has shown that it has contributed to making students in participating districts healthier. All the more reason not to continue, right?

POLL RESULTS

The poll questions got a lot of response this week. Let’s take a look.

The first question was in response to a proposed 10-day suspension for Carlton Battle. Some of you disputed the evidence cited in the paperwork submitted for board approval as part of this week’s school board agenda. The board will be voting on whether a 10-day suspension is sufficient. The report says that Battle “went out into the hallway,” responded to the parent’s attempt to make physical contact by punching them in the “face several times,” and then left the premises without reporting the incident to the proper authorities or MNPS officials. I have to believe that those conclusions are based on district investigation and rooted in fact.

If those are incorrect statements, then the board has no business voting on the appropriateness of the punishment. I’m willing to give a little benefit of the doubt to Battle based on rumblings I’ve heard on the motivations for actions taken by HR leadership and people vouching for his character. Still, a lot of questions remain. Questions that, in my eyes, need clarification before proceeding.

That said, 39% of you indicated that his actions should result in nothing less than termination and 18% of you indicated that you would have a hard time with him supervising your children. Here are the write-ins:

No 2
Why was the parent in the locker room 2
No action needed. Mr. Battle is great a role model that my kids look up to. 1
punishment not needed 1
I thought he has been gone for 30+ days already. 1
No punishment needed 1
The parent assaulted Battle. The parent should be arrested instead 1
Mr. Battle is a well respected and stand up guy. Allegations are false! 1
I know him to be innocent of these charges AND he’s a great man. 1
Fire him 1
And this is different from the daily ongoings in the schools how? 1
If not community supt sibling, would have already been fired. 1
You have the story wrong on Battle 1
He should be fired 1
Can you imagine your Dr collecting money – fundraisers – why ask a teacher to?

Question number 2 asked if you though Mayor Briley was fair with his budget allocation to MNPS. 55% of you responded in a manner that indicated you felt he was doing the best he could with the cards dealt to him. 14% indicated that you felt he should have gotten schools more. Here are the write-ins:

Hard to get more when you don’t spend current funds wisely 1
The MNPS budget needs to go back to the drawing board. 1
The response to an asinine request was equally asinine 1
I think they see a budget that is riddled with errors and shooting low will for. 1
Why are teachers always last in line? Time for a new career. 1
Nope, lost my vote too. 1
YES! Joseph needs to spend $ correctly 1
His message is clear to Joseph-stop wasting $ 1
Should have not given any extra & asked more ?? 1
time for a tax referendum – public school funds should match private school 1
time to create a tax referendum- public schools need the same funds as private 1
The budget failure falls on Dr Joseph’s head

The last question asked who was getting your vote for Nashville’s next mayor. If results are to be trusted, two frontrunners have emerged. Briley got 41% of the vote to Carol Swain’s 38%, which would indicate that a run off is in Nashville’s future, since neither got over 50%. Here are the write-ins:

Megan Barry 3
TC Weber 1
Unsure at the moment 1
Out of county
Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

THREE HUNDRED SIXTY FIVE DEGREES

Do you remember a number of years ago when the American West was besieged by fires? They burned out of control for weeks on end, destroying everything in their path. Fire fighters tried everything to get them under control, but nothing seemed to work.  It would appear, for a moment or two, that the crisis was becoming controllable, and then the flames would flare up in another area just as fierce. Firefighters were finally able to extinguish the flames, but only after several months and after the fires had caused catastrophic amounts of damage. That’s what this year’s MNPS budget process reminds me of – a never-ending series of uncontrollable conflagrations consuming everything in their path.

It seems like we’ve been talking about next year’s budget all year. The first fire broke out when it was revealed that the district had miscalculated its enrollment predictions, and as a result, they would lose $7.5 million in state funding. Shortly thereafter, principals were told that they would be losing Title I money next year through a change in the reallocation formula, and as a result, their individual school budgets would be lower. In response to the heat generated by this announcement, the district produced handouts with individual school’s numbers showing increased site-based budgeting numbers – handouts that were quickly shown by parents and school board members to be rife with errors. It’s hard to have an honest conversation when you don’t have verifiable numbers.

Several public hearings were held. These hearings drew substantially more participants than in any other previous years, and as a result, things got a little hot at times. Fires sparked further when Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph announced the cutting of the literacy program Reading Recovery from the budget. A move that smacked of political retribution. I expected things to die down after the MNPS school board approved the budget, albeit by a vote of 7-2. Alas, the presentation of the budget to the mayor only added fuel to the simmering embers.

I understand not all of you are from around here, and I had to learn this lesson the hard way, but if you thought Mayor Briley went easy on Joseph, then you are mistaken. What the Mayor did was hold Joseph’s feet to the fire in a very forceful but very Southern manner. It wasn’t quite a “Bless his heart,” but Briley let Joseph know in a very polite, but no less certain, manner that he wasn’t buying everything Joseph was selling. Don’t believe me? Look at Chris Henson’s face throughout the second half of the presentation. It speaks volumes.

This week, Mayor Briley released the city’s budget, and those fires leaped to life again. The budget only awarded MNPS an additional $5 million of the $45 million requested. That money isn’t even enough to cover additional money owed to charter schools due to their increased growth or pension payments. In short, cuts are coming.

The fingers of blame have quickly been pointed, as it has become apparent that Nashville is not as flush with cash as an “It City” should be. Blame has been directed to the office of Property Assessment because so many challenges to new property assessments came back in favor of property owners. Others have cited Budget Line item 7777 and the tax breaks given to corporations as a culprit. MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge has pointed out the fact that district leadership has not done right with the money that they have been allocated and raised a red flag that, in fact, how leadership spends money needs closer examination. I believe it’s all of this and more.

The big losers in all of this, besides the children of Nashville, are MNPS teachers. The sad reality is that raises for this year are pretty much off the table. Teachers are not the only deserving public servants looking for more money; police officers and firefighters are as well. The budget makes no allocation for raises for any of the aforementioned, which is extremely unfortunate.

Last year, we had an opportunity to address the chronic shortfall of teacher salaries. We had a new mayor with a popularity rating over 70% and a new Director of Schools with a rating approaching that. Instead of taking care of our people, Shawn Joseph chose to fund programs over personnel. Fast forward a year to now: that mayor is gone and the Director of Schools appears to be close on her heels. An opportunity was squandered.

I would also argue that last year, money was spent without a proper inventory of existing resources. Former STEAM Director Kris Elliot is now in Oregon overseeing the creation of a state outdoor education program that is proving to be incredibly successful. Is it beyond the realm of reason to believe that he could have begun the transformation of middle schools to a STEAM curriculum at a lower cost than the current outside consultants Discovery Ed? Former SEL Director Nicole Cobb is now with Vanderbilt’s Peabody College doing exemplary work – work she could have been doing with the district. Former MNPS Executive Director of School Choice Aimee Wyatt is now working with the Southern Regional Education Board to transform Memphis high schools – work she could have been doing for MNPS.

Those are just three examples, but it is safe to say that opportunity has been squandered at every level. You don’t start a home improvement project by leaping into the car and heading to Home Depot with credit card in hand. You form a plan, you inventory what you have on hand, and you make a list of what you still need to purchase. Only then do you head to Home Depot. After all, all projects have a budget and you don’t want to blow that budget on needless expenditures. Why should improving a school district be any different?

The release of the budget has earned Mayor Briley the ire of a lot of folks, undeservedly so, in my opinion. He is only doing the best he can with what he has been given. It can be argued that he had a front row seat for the decisions that have led to this predicament and failed to speak out. Maybe, but he was just a supporting character at the time and not the lead.

We must not lose sight, though, that right now he is not just “Mayor” Briley, but also “Candidate” Briley. We need to be really careful that our ire does not spill over into the polls. For all of his perceived faults, it’s still clear to me that Mayor Briley is our best leadership option for the next 18 months. I find it refreshing that he chose to put Nashville above himself and not play politics with the budget. It would have been very easy for him to use the budget as a vehicle to fuel an election win. One that would come at the risk of a long-term loss for the city. In surveying the list of candidates for the mayor’s office, I can safely say there is not another person I would feel better about being in charge during this transition period than Briley.

On this coming Tuesday at the board meeting, Dr. Joseph is scheduled to present his revised budget. One that is anticipated to arrive with large cuts. I’ve heard of numerous areas in which those cuts are going to come, but at this time, it all remains speculation. Since I prefer not to deal in speculation – unless it’s in regards to a certain popular South Nashville principal’s future – I’ll refrain from making my own speculations and instead wait for Tuesday’s presentation. Whatever happens Tuesday, I think it is safe to say that the budget fires are far from being extinguished.

AN OPENING IN PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY

Continuing with the theme of fires, Prince George’s County Public Schools has certainly seen their fair share over the last two years. You’ll remember that PGCPS is the point of origin for current MNPS leadership. This week, steps were taken to start putting out some of those fires. School CEO – I hate when schools emulate business in their choice of titles – Kevin Maxwell announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

In case you are not familiar with the way things work in PGCPS, they have a board that is made up of both appointed and elected officials. The majority being appointed. The CEO of Schools is hired by the County Executive, currently Rushern L. Baker III. Baker is currently running for Governor of Maryland, and regardless of that outcome, he will be termed out come November. Baker has been a staunch supporter of Maxwell, so Maxwell probably saw the writing on the wall.

I know what you are thinking right now, and my answer is, I don’t know. Baker will have the opportunity to hire the new CEO, and he is a friend of Joseph’s. Earlier in the year, Joseph provided Baker an opportunity to address principals at the weekly principal’s meeting. Last year, I spoke with PGCPS School Board Member Edward Burroughs, who has spearheaded the call for change these last several years, and he referred to Dr. Joseph as one of the good guys and also expressed admiration of MNPS Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder. The lure home is always appealing, but Dr. Joseph has professed that Nashville is his new home. I would be surprised, though, if at the very least, Nashville’s Chief of Schools Sito Narcisse’s resume wasn’t sitting squarely on Baker’s desk.

A MISSED DATE AND YET ANOTHER MISSED OPPORTUNITY

I don’t think it’s any secret that I’m not a fan of the “Teacher of the Year” awards, nor the award ceremonies that accompany them. The job of teacher is too complex and hinges too much on collaboration to single out individuals for recognition. That’s not to take away anything from the winners; they, like all teachers, have certainly earned their accolades. I’m pretty confident that most of the winners would be quick to acknowledge the role of their colleagues in their success as well. So I shouldn’t be treading on hallowed ground in raising my objections.

However, if you ARE going to have an award ceremony and you ARE going to take the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of your teachers, then I think the Number One and Number Two people in the district better damn well show up. Yet neither Shawn Joseph nor Sito Narcisse deemed the event important enough for them to make an appearance. Again, an opportunity to curry favor with the rank and file is squandered and an alternative message is sent. Leadership is not about saying the right things; it’s about doing the right things. Surely that is written somewhere in Joseph’s endorsed leadership book, Leadership and Self-Deception.

QUICK HITS

In my opinion, the conversation on state standardized testing has jumped the shark when you start debating the amount of impact a dump truck had on the execution of the test administration.

In interesting news, despite a need to make budget cuts, MNPS recently announced two new administrator hires. Heading up the STEAM initiative, an initiative that has been without leadership for the majority of the year, will be Dr. Jennifer Berry. Berry is an 18-year veteran of MNPS. Filling the position of Executive Officer of Organizational Development, recently vacated by Maryland transplant Mo Carrasco, will be another MNPS veteran, Dr. Sonia Stewart. Stewart has done exceptional work over the years at Pearl Cohn HS. She’ll be heading up a division that, under Carrasco, accounted for close to half a million dollars in salaries yet no real budget. To the department’s credit, though, the groundwork on a principal pipeline was laid and holds promise.

Saturday, June 9 is the date for the annual Fatherhood Festival to celebrate MNPS fathers and father figures. Learn more and register for the event here: http://bit.ly/2Emyvcb 

As mentioned earlier, there is another election on the way. The Nashville mayoral election is scheduled for May 24, which happens to be the last day of school. Many of our schools serve as polling sites. This means an influx of unaccounted-for individuals in the building. Many MNPS parents have voiced concerns about this influx, and Dr. Joseph has taken their concerns to State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen. Unfortunately, McQueen has replied that rectifying the situation is beyond her scope of authority. If schools decide to close, a make up day will have to be scheduled.

There is a MNPS School Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday. On the agenda is certification of a 10-day suspension of Carlton Battle. In reading the accompanying documentation, I’m not sure 10 days is a sufficient punishment for Battle. Just to be clear, you curse at students, you assault a parent repeatedly, you leave after the assault without properly reporting the incident, you keep $1,600 of fundraising proceeds in your possession for two months and upon finally turning it in, it’s $50 short, yet all you receive is 10-day suspension? What do you have to do to receive a dismissal? I guess it helps to have a sibling who is a Community Superintendent.

Linda Darling-Hammond offers some insight into the teacher walkouts that are sweeping the nation. I urge you to read the whole piece. Here’s an excerpt:

“A nation that under-educates its children in the 21st century cannot long survive as a world power. Prisons — which now absorb more of our tax resources than public higher education did in the 1980s — are filled with high school dropouts and those with low levels of literacy. We pay three times more for each prisoner than we invest in each child’s education annually. With an aging population and only three workers for every person on Social Security, the United States especially needs all young people to be well-educated enough to gain good work in the complex and rapidly changing economy they are entering. Without their ability to pay the taxes that support the rest of society, the social contract will dissolve.

“Inadequate education funding has created the conditions that make teaching the daily struggle that has finally drawn teachers and families to the picket lines: unmanageable class sizes, inadequate resources and facilities, cuts to essential medical and mental-health school services and more. As child poverty, food insecurity and homelessness have climbed to among the highest levels in the industrialized world (more than one in five live in poverty and in 2014 one in 30 were homeless), schools have been left with fewer resources to address these needs and support student learning.”

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

A POLICY IN SEARCH OF A DEFINITION

What an absolutely gorgeous weekend past one turned out to be. I hope y’all got a chance to enjoy it.

The season and the weather combined to create the need to undertake some yard work. Mowing the lawn, for me, provides time to contemplate and turn ideas and concepts over in my head. This week-end I though about two words that get tossed around a whole lot – equity and diversity.

It is no secret how much my family loves Tusculum Elementary School. Over the last 4 years the school and it’s teachers have had an immeasurable effect upon my family, most of it positive. When I first dropped my daughter of for kindergarten 4 years ago I thought I had a firm grasp on the definition of  equity and diversity. I could not have been more wrong.

Former Eakin ES principal Tim Drinkwine used to make the claim that his school was among the most diverse in the state. I chortled when I heard that and challenged him, “Seriously, the school in the middle of a wealthy predominately white neighborhood boarded by Vanderbilt University has greater diversity than my school in South Nashville with kids from over a 100 different countries. Not likely.” He was right. I was wrong.

Tusculum does kids from over 100 different countries, however the majority of them come from other countries, live in impoverished households, and are being raised by parents with limited formal education. Eakin’s kids come from a nearly equal number of countries but their families fall all over the economic map and they have parents with varying degrees of formal education. In essence, Tusculum’s ethnically diverse study body is actually more homogenous than it appears. This may seem like splitting hairs, but I’ve come to realize how important that distinction is.

In the past, I’ve made the argument, that if wealthier parents would just send their kids to the local neighborhood schools the schools would become more diverse and everybody would benefit. I still believe that but I’ve come to realize it’s a little more complex than that. Adding school choice to the mix makes things even more complex. In fact, I’m not sure that you can have choice without sacrificing some equity and diversity.

At Tusculum my kids are in the minority and as such the majority of programing is not directed towards them. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that since TES has such a large population of ELL kids and kid’s from poverty, that many kids are reading below grade level thereby creating an inherent need to intensify the focus on getting those kids reading. Couple this inherent need with an added focus by both the district and the state and the pressure to perform mounts. To even have a shot at meeting the mandates put forth by both the district, and the state, sacrifices have to be made.

Those meme’s touting the glory of increased per pupil expenditures are a little misleading. Despite what they would like you to believe, there is no back pack full of cash were a student can pull out a few bucks and order a theater class, 2 advanced math classes, an interventionist, and a counselor. It’s more like each kid walks into a school with a back pack full of cash and then dumps it at the feet of the principal along with all the other kid’s back packs of cash. The principal then takes the collective money and sends some of it to central office while trying to utilize the rest to do the most good. Hence the need for sacrifices.

Those sacrifices often come in the areas of the arts, science, and social studies. Even when those areas are covered, if the majority of kids are reading below grade level, how in-depth can lessons in those areas actually get? That’s one of the reason’s I’ve become more of a believer in dual language instruction, but that’s another subject for another day.

It’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the nature of the beast created by the over focus on accountability. If you constantly remind people that the only true measurement of learning is how kids perform on tests, and then you add in a bunch of kids that are starting behind the curve, it only goes to reason that anything not contributing to the reaching of that mandate becomes expendable. Unfortunately some of those things that get sacrificed are things that are needed in order to meet the needs of those kids not in the majority.

In talking equity, a great deal attention gets paid to the “achievement gap”, the difference in test scores between  low scoring kids high scoring kids. I’ve had an executive director at MNPS tell me that ensuring high scoring kids make modest gains while low scoring kids make large gains is how you close the achievement gap. Besides fundamentally disagreeing with that strategy, I have to wonder how that aligns with the concept of equity.

We have a  tendency to evaluate schools predominately on educational factors, but I’d argue that social factors are every bit as important. Socially the experience my children have at TES is vastly different from one they would have had at, say, Eakin. For example, while my daughter has a slew of friends, in 4 years she has been to one birthday party and only a handful of playdates.

I’m not casting blame at anyone for this, but the reality is that no matter how open you are, culture and language barriers exist. There is a tremendous amount of benefits that she has reaped socially from her peers, but there are things she has missed out on as well. I’m not going to lie, and say that I don’t wonder at times if I have not done her a disservice by placing her in school were those experience were not readily available.

When schools communicate with families they employ methods geared towards reaching the majority of families. When you fall outside that majority, you don’t always receive those messages. It is certainly not intentional, nor deliberate, but it is reality.

Case in point, this weekend TES students and their families participated in the Nashville Marathon’s kid’s run. We’ve attended in the past and it’s an amazing time. This weekend I was filled with pride looking at the pictures, and hearing the stories, of the families that attended. But I also had pangs of sadness because we missed it. We missed because we never knew it was happening, and therefore never had the choice to attend.

They same holds true for the school’s family engagement meetings. I’ve missed all but one of them because I continually don’t see the sign on the door adverting the meeting until it’s passed. It makes me wonder how many other events at the school I’ve missed. How many other opportunities to interact with other families have passed without my knowledge.

Right now I’m sure some of you are nodding your head and saying, “Welcome to our world. Where were you when the shoe was on the other foot?” I’m sure that for our Black and Hispanic families the experiences that I’m relaying are all too familiar, and have long been in need of correction. It is often overlooked that even if 80% of a school’s kids live in poverty, there are still 20% who don’t. What happens with that 20% doesn’t get nearly the attention it should.

If a choice is available, can you fault a family if they choose to go elsewhere? If my child is part of the 20% and both academically and socially they are not getting their needs met, what is the impetus to stay?  What happens then? If a student who is part of the 20% leaves, that school that was made up of 80% kids in poverty becomes a school that is 90% kids in poverty. Over time schools become less and less diverse and more and more segregated.

People wonder why charter schools hold such an appeal to minority families. It really isn’t hard to figure out. Parents of minority students have experience the same feeling I have, and charter school present an opportunity to create your own community while addressing academic concerns. I don’t agree with it, but I certainly get it.

Let’s flip back to Eakin for a second though.Here you have a school that is diverse in many different ways and by all accounts is delivering an equitable educational experience to all its families. Attend any school function and the diversity becomes evident. I would argue that West End Middle School and JT Moore carry the experience forward by citing the data showing that non-zoned students who choose Eakin continue on through to the Hillsboro at a higher rate than those zoned for those schools.

I would argue that if we were truly interested in promoting equity and diversity, we would study what these schools are doing and how to replicate it district wide. How can we attract children from all backgrounds and provide an environment where they all benefit together, not just academically, but through rich life experiences.

Instead the district quibbles over test scores and laments that Eakin students aren’t growing fast enough. Ok, but despite these claims, I’m hard pressed to find a Eakin parent that is shopping for a new school for their child and if a family does leave, there is another ready to take their place. I’m not a parent of an Eakin student, so I can’t speak for them, but if I was, you can bet that the preservation of culture would be a lot higher on my list. As a public school parent I would like to see more of our schools mirror the diversity of Eakin. Eakins is not the only school in the district that serves as diverse a population, but merely an example of what we might want to look at.

Right now you wouldn’t be remiss in thinking, “So what’s the point of all this rambling?” Admittedly, I’m kind of asking myself the same question.

I think the point is that if are going to truly have a conversation on equity and diversity it has to go deeper and realize that equity belongs to all, not just the select. We have to be ready to face the fact that our actions will produce unintended consequences as well as the intended and we must be ready to adjust if necessary.

Creating equity isn’t just about shifting resources, it is also about shifting attitudes and recognizing that there is no sub-group without needs and that all means ALL. We must also recognize that our experiences, are not necessarily universal experiences. It’s a conversation that can’t happen if we don’t fully define our terms and too important not to. It’s a conversation that the executive director of equity and diversity would be leading if we actually attached importance to it and they were actually earning their $155k a year salary.

NOT SO OPEN RECORDS

There is a provision in Tennessee’s open record laws that allows for government entities to charge for open record requests that require extraneous work or volumes of copies. This  provision is put in place to prevent people from making frivolous requests whose only intent is to tie up the communications department. Over the years I’ve put in various requests.

In the past I have asked for,

  • A copy of the report on lead in school drinking water.
  • MAP testing’s raw scores.
  • Evaluations of district leadership by the superintendent.
  • Copies of various contracts with independent vendors doing business with the district.
  • Copies of notes from the hiring panel for community superintendents and principals.

Needless to say, many of these requests have produced information that the district would have preferred remained unknown. The recent state laws requiring schools to test drinking water for lead and parents to be notified if levels are high, is rooted in an open records request. Open record requests have brought to light the districts failure to follow its own protocols in financial areas as well as questionable discipline practices.

Last week MNPS, who touts itself on its transparency, decided that despite having an employee making just shy of $50k a year, solely dedicated to open record requests, they needed to start charging individuals for those requests. Anything that supposedly takes over an hour will incur a fee. My first request, asking for expense account receipts since January 1 for MNPS Chiefs has a bill of $35.73 attached to it. I made this request in light of the recent budget freeze and after hearing stories that not everyone was curtailing their spending.

MNPS is not the first organization to think of this strategy. In my experience as an activist, I’ve run up against it a couple of times and it never works out well for those that chose to employ it. It’s simple, if you want to curtail open record requests, be transparent. Just saying you are transparent is not enough, you have to actually be transparent.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the MNPS communication department has elected to go this route as it’s consistent with Public Information Officer Michelle Michaud’s strategy of confrontation. One that she’s employed across the board since arriving last September. In her short tenure Michaud has sought to control communication through intimidation with local media, teachers, parents and even internally with MNPS administrators. I’m not at all surprised that she would attempt to raise the barriers to information to the public.

I’m a bit surprised that she would employ this strategy in the midst of an ongoing Metro Nashville Government audit. Hopefully she has familiarized herself with all fiscal requirements that go with collecting money from the public and all aspects of the open records laws including the exemption policies that should apply to those not for profit folks seeking access to information..

Currently I’ve got a request in for all emails between MNPS Leadership, former Knoxville Superintendent Jim McIntyre, and Nashville Public Education Foundation’s director Shannon Hunt. In case you didn’t know, despite not being a district employee, nor having a contract with MNPS, McIntyre has been sitting in on Executive Leadership Team meetings. In light of recent events with Dr. Joseph’s friend Dallas Dance, I feel it’s probably good practice to monitor district interaction with ex-superintendents. I’m betting this request cost me a couple hundred dollars.

QUICK NOTES

State Representative Sabi Kumar has some interesting advice for parents concerned about this years testing issues, stop whining!

Hmmm….compare the list of concerns from Prince George County Schools to the list of concerns emerging at MNPS and you might find some similarities.

Teacher walkouts across the country continue to grow. There is a reason and it’s not fat pay checks.

Tom Joy Elementary School kid’s knocked them dead with this year performance of the musical 3 Little Pigs. It may not win a Tony but it won a lot of hearts.

Don’t miss Overton HS’s Bobcat Players special “This is Home” piece for NBC tomorrow morning at 6 am!

Alison McDowell is a Philadelphia public school parent and a member of the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools. This article is an expansion of her testimony to the Philadelphia School Reform Commission on November 19, 2015. While it speaks to developments in Philadelphia, the discussion of “community schools”  has national implicationsI encourage you to click on link and read.

POLL RESULTS

I’ve learned that designing engaging poll questions is not as easy as it may appear. This week’s questions received fewer than normal responses. Still the ones I got are interesting.

The first question asked for you to weigh in on Dr. Narcisse’s odds for the job as Superintendent of Duvall Schools. 52% of you felt that it was all dependent on whether or not they had a job for his wife. Two people thought his odds were pretty good but hoped we kept him. Here are the write in answers,

Praying he gets it and takes Dr J & crew w/ him! 1
I hope he gets It and takes some of his friends south with him. 1
He’s not qualified. Hope Duval sees that. 1
Why are you so concerned?!? 1
hard to know / always such disconnect between the ppl at top vs frontlines 1
Whatever 1
Better them than us. Who else from Maryland will he bring down next? 1
He lies to principals all the time….no trust. 1
I hope he gets it and leaves 1
Which one is he? 1
Hope he goes 1
Please God, let them have him 1
Bye and take Maritza with you

Question number 2 asked you to weigh in on MNPS’s human resource department. 23% of you asked if we even had an HR department, with 19% of you decrying that they still did not know how to recruit teachers. I guess some solace could be taken that 16% of you thought things were the same as always. Two of you said that things were trending in the right direction. Here are the write ins,

They need to do EXIT interviews for all employees! 1
They recently sent us 2 candidates with police records 1
I think you should have reported on last Superintendent racial bias too! 1
retired / doing the best w what they have to work with 1
Terrible 1
Leaders push color over qualification 1
Same shit, different day 1
Non responsive-worse than ever 1
Hard to be a pub. school HR dept. when you don’t know squat about pub. schools 1
Don’t know about individual employees, but on the whole they seem a total mess

The last question asked for what song best summarized this years budget season. The winner was “Take the Money and Run”. Followed closely by “Bad Blood.” Here are the writer ins.

 

Dumb question 1
fire felder & entire dept 1
Heard it on the Grapevine- Marvin Gaye 1
There’s a Hole in My Bucket 1
Money – Pink Floyd
If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

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

Posted in Uncategorized

WHAT I’M READING

A little confession here, I’m one of those people always reading multiple books at a time. Usually it’s one fiction book – I have a weakness for the crime novel – and one non-fiction book, most often a biography. Currently, I’m into the new John Sanford and the biography of Art Pepper. Last week I added a third book, Making The Unequal Metropolis.

Admittedly I’m only a few chapters into that book, but I must say it’s providing a lot of fodder for thought. The book is a study on how race and economic status played into the creation of the Metropolitan Nashville Public School system. A system that has been fraught with inequities for years.

Like many cities in America, Nashville has wrestled with the subject of race. Memphis, Atlanta, and Birmingham are all cited more often in historical accounts of the Civil Rights movement, but Nashville played a central role as well. Making the Unequal Metropolis examines that history and tries to show how national politics and local politics combined to put blacks at an educational, and therefore an economical, disadvantage for decades.

Often times, the impact of local politics isn’t readily apparent. For example, the building of the Municipal Auditorium could be seen as a great economic driver for the downtown area. What I didn’t know was that in securing the property for the building of the auditorium, many of the buildings that housed black businesses were demolished. An area where black economic power was centralized was broken up. That’s the kind of negative impact a seemingly positive endeavor can have.

Many white Americans speak fondly of our neighborhood schools and how they brought the community together. Which is a nice sentiment, but not exactly beneficial for all. Schools were built around homogenous communities. The promotion of neighborhoods had the unintended consequence, though some would argue it was an intended consequence, of fueling segregation.

The schools that anchored these neighborhoods were not exactly equal. Schools in white communities were, for the most part, modern, clean, and well-kept. That didn’t hold true for schools in black neighborhoods. Despite rooms sitting empty in white schools, black schools were often overcrowded, dimly lit, and in disrepair.

Black teachers were paid salaries of about 40% lower than their white counterparts, despite being on average better educated. This wasn’t by design, but rather due to discriminatory practices in other fields. Those practices left many college-educated black young people with little employment opportunity other than teaching.

Since desegregation in the late 1950s, things have improved, somewhat, but old habits die hard. Whether intentional or not, practices imbedded at the root can only be changed through intentional actions. Schools that house primarily minority or poor kids are still under resourced. Salaries are no longer unequal between white and black educators, but there is still a dearth of black educators in leadership roles. Due to socio-economic conditions, many of our minority and poor kids continue to fall behind in school.

It’s undebatable that inequity is baked into our educational system. It’s undebatable that our underserved communities have a right to be angry. What is debatable is how we address and rectify those inequities.

In 1971, despite protesting parents, Nashville schools desegregated through busing. It was a controversial move and was fought all through the 80’s and 90’s, but it led to Nashville becoming statistically one of the most desegregated school districts in the country. In 1998, the federal government released MNPS from its desegregation plan.

I’m a child of the Northeast and, as such, am well versed in the racial interactions of communities in that region. Black, White, Asian, and Latino communities have very distinct boundaries and interactions are limited. There is a great deal of animosity and distrust between these communities.

I remember when I moved to Nashville and found, despite the caricature of the Southern redneck, that there was much more interaction between racial entities than at home. I remember remarking to friends that, despite instances of overt racism, things seemed decidedly less racially-driven than in Philadelphia. Nashville wasn’t perfect, but it was a damn sight better than home.

Admittedly, these observations come through the lens of a white male. Different perspectives might speak to different degrees. I can only speak to what I have experienced and to those that black friends have shared with me. (I know, everyone has a black friend. I get it.)

That doesn’t mean that I think we’ve reached nirvana. Nor do I believe that solutions can be found in a 3000-word blog post. But I do think we are trying, but at the same time must try harder. I firmly believe that Nashville needs a deeper conversation on race. But what will that conversation look like?

This budget season has opened the doors to the potential ugliness of such a conversation. As programs and practices are being placed under a microscope, people become passionate and defensive. In the process, a racial undercurrent that has been simmering takes root and becomes the biggest elephant in the room.

Some of you are probably thinking right now, “Whoa, TC, watch where you are going here. You are a school board candidate, and you are heading into some dangerous water.”

Unfortunately, I never could stay out of the current. I’ve thought about this a lot over the last several months, but Dr. Joseph’s fraternity brother accusing board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering of conducting a public lynching has pushed things to the forefront and made it impossible for me to continue to tip toe around the subject.

When those comments were made, I fully expected Dr. Joseph to immediately rebuke them. As a literacy specialist, he is well aware that words have power. He is also well aware that nothing that transpires in a board room will ever equivocate to such a horrific act as a lynching. To try to equate what Dr. Joseph experienced to what actual lynching victims experienced should be offensive to all. Yet he sat silent and even after the meeting when presented with the opportunity to defuse those words, he demurred and just said they weren’t his words.

When Dr. Joseph arrived, there was a decided lack of black administrators in MNPS. There was a perception, right or wrong, that Dr. Register and Dr. Steele favored white administrators over black administrators. I have a great deal respect for both Steele and Register and know both would chafe at the accusation of intentional bias, but the numbers don’t lie. Other than Tony Majors, MNPS was of devoid black leadership at the highest level. Real or not, based on perceived evidence, the narrative took root.

Part of the appeal of hiring Dr. Joseph was that he presented an opportunity to bring more equity to the equation. An opportunity was presented to balance things out to the benefit of all. Unfortunately, what has transpired is a complete flip of the script. The perception now is that Dr. Joseph and his team show bias toward black educators over white educators. As I did with Register and Steele, I will extend the courtesy of not assigning intent. But there is no arguing that the perception has taken root.

Do I think that when you attempt to rectify an unequal situation those who have benefited by the equation will try to push back? Yes. Do I think those that some of those who are no longer benefiting from their status will try to defend their previous privilege through any means possible? Yes. Do I think that rectifying an unequal situation will cause a great deal of discomfort? Yes. But I also think that when making such a wide scale change, you need to be cognizant of the aforementioned challenges and be sure that your actions are not fueling an unintended narrative or reaction. It’s not an easy action to take. If it was, the job wouldn’t pay $300K a year.

When the makeup of central office flips from one race to another in less than a year, it fuels the unintended narrative. When a white principal’s disciplinary action is handled differently than a black principal’s, for a similar infraction, it fuels the unintended narrative. Especially when the one overseeing both situations is a black female executive.

Putting an all-white Human Resources team out in trailers separated from the rest of the department fuels the unintended narrative. Leaving black principals in place in schools where they are obviously failing, and in some cases promoting them, fuels the unintended narrative. Referring to yourself repeatedly at executive meetings as being the Black Panther fuels the unintended narrative. Just as failing to defend board members against charges of racism also fuels the unintended narrative.

I’m sure some of you are reading this right now and thinking, “What the hell are you talking about?” or “Why are you being so critical of Dr. J? Why was nobody saying anything in the past?” I understand those criticisms and acknowledge their veracity.

More people should have spoken up in the past. Just because they didn’t doesn’t mean we should be quiet now. Policy should be evaluated purely on whether it’s good or bad, not based on the level of inquiry it’s produced in the past. Just because things got a pass in the past does not mean that on the flip side, they should be extended the same privilege in the present. I acknowledge that I have had many shortcomings in the past, but am I alone in that sin? We cannot let yesterday rob us of tomorrow.

I will be the first to say that Nashville needs a deeper conversation on race. There are those who will say we’ve already talked enough about race. I wish that was true, but evidence abounds that race is still an integral part of practices and policies and that we are not facing things in an equitable manner.

Personally, I believe it’s a conversation that needs to make us all feel a little uncomfortable. Change does not come without some discomfort. When I say all, I mean all. We must all search our souls and evaluate our role. None of us are experts on race relations. Many of us, though, have very deep scars due to racism and while those scars don’t create experts, they can lead to a road map of understanding. Many of us need those road maps to reach greater understanding.

I guess what I’m calling for is that all of us be a little more mindful of our words and deeds, intentional and unintentional, and how they contribute to the overall conversation. We need a conversation that tears down walls, not build new ones. We need a conversation that unites us, not divide us. We must never forget that children are watching us and taking their cues from our actions. In order to have a better conversation, we must all be willing to suffer some discomfort, make some concessions, forge some compromises, and free our mind – so the rest will follow.

QUICK HITS

I’m urging everyone to either email or call your legislator this weekend. Not to advocate or complain, but rather to say thank you. As advocates we must also know when to show appreciation. This week, legislators earned it. They remained in session long enough to make sure they got legislation passed on TNReady right and extended protection from consequences arising from a dumpster fire of a test for everyone. In the words of Hee-Haw…. SALUTE!

In other news, there is no truth to the rumor that wild gorillas ran through several schools and stole the test early this morning. Here’s a post from a kid running for student government president. I’m thinking of making him my campaign manager.

TMZ time. Rumors continue to swirl that a certain popular South Nashville middle school principal is in the mix for the job at Hillwood HS. While we understand his desire to work at the high school level, we kinda need him over here.

Also hearing rumors that a certain gubernatorial candidate, who is trailing the pack, is expressing interest in becoming the next Commissioner of Education for the state of Tennessee. I think they’d do a comparable job to what they did as Speaker of the House.

Is this the worst headline ever: “Nashville schools spending policy review not likely happen until later in the year.” Did they fire all of the proofreaders at the Tennessean? I know, people in glass houses… you got me.

Here’s another bit of free advice. Principal hiring panels are only effective if they are actually authentic. Keep in mind, everybody in Nashville has two friends and if the panel is treated as nothing but an optic, they will convey that to two friends, who will convey it to two friends, who will… you get the picture. In essence, you are setting up the selection for failure. It’s not hard. Be transparent. Be authentic.

If you’ll remember back a few weeks ago, I reported on the wife of the Chief of Schools, and Duval County Superintendent candidate, Dr. Narcisse getting a stipend for doing additional work. The stipend made her salary $155K a year. Here’s some information to put in context: with that stipend she nows makes equal to or more than the following individuals in MNPS:

  • COMMUNITY SUPERINTENDENT
  • HUMAN RESOURCES EXEC DIR
  • OPERATIONS HR
  • EXEC DIR ‐ TECHN & INFO SVCS
  • EXEC DIR ‐ EMPLOYEE RELATIONS
  • EXEC DIR ‐ SAFETY & SECURITY EXEC
  • DIR ‐ RESEARCH AND EVAL
  • EXEC DIR ‐ INSTRUCTION
  • EXEC DIR ‐ TALENT STRATEGY
  • DIR ‐ CENTRAL SVCS & INVENTORY
  • EXEC DIR ‐ SSI

Truth is, with that stipend, she is the 7th highest-paid employee in MNPS. Hmmm… since we were able to evaluate the efficacy of Reading Recovery, do you think it would be possible for Dr. Changas to study the efficacy of the Executive Director of Equity and Diversity?

Meet Jamia Lockmiller, a physical education teacher at Tusculum Elementary, and one of our 2018 Teacher of the Year finalists for Metro Schools. So pleased that she is getting the recognition she deserves. I can never downplay the role she played in setting my son out on the right path with his formal education.

Twenty-five string students from MNPS will join classically trained violist and violinist Wil B. and Kev Marcus of Black Violin at their performance on Thursday, April 26, at War Memorial Auditorium.

The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is offering buy one, get one free tickets to Metro Schools teachers, parents and guardians: http://cart.tpac.org/single/SYOS.aspx?p=8329&promo=BVEDU. If a student would like to attend, use the code BVSTUDENT at checkout.

Sometimes, something just gives you the smiles all over… When a generous, thoughtful soul shows compassion in every single thing she does, a community is lifted. Beyond librarian: soul whisperer – at J. T. Moore Middle School.

I need to give a shout out to Doc Smith, a teacher over at Overton High School. Due to his kindness and perseverance, my son and I did not miss out on an exceptional experience. Doc got us passes to Quad A (The Army Aviation Association of America) out at the Opryland Hotel. I admit I didn’t know what to expect, but upon leaving Peter remarked to me, “Which do you think was better, this or Comic Con? High praise, indeed.

The Overton Cluster PAC meets on Monday night at Haywood ES at 6:30 PM. Come hear Overton Academy Head Doug Trotter give the inside skinny on Overton’s Cambridge program. Look forward to seeing everyone.

That’s a wrap. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions.
If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the events that you send to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.
I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out the Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board page.
,,,
Posted in Uncategorized

A TIP TO THE LIP

Growing up in Northeast Pennsylvania, I used to read the NY Daily News religiously. This was at a time when newspaper’s daily columnists ruled the world. Names like Breslin, Royko, McAlary, Ivans, Buchwald, Albom, O’Rourke, or even Bangs on the byline meant as much to me as the names Hemingway, Poe, Wilder, or Faulkner. These guys were fearless. They did whatever it took to root out corruption and injustice while still managing a brilliant turn of the phrase. They were my real life super heroes. I devoured their words and was inspired by their commitment to pursuing the truth and exposing inequities.

The rise of the internet and the change in how we chose to receive our news and information meant that the importance of the columnist began to fade. A decline in readership led to financial hardships for print media and columnists, and often the most expensive contributors became expendable. I mourn the loss of those brilliant writers and truly believe we as a society are worse off for the loss.

One of my favorite columnists was a sports writer named Mike Lupica. These days Lupica is a television celebrity and a writer of a series of YA books. He still pens a column, but it feels like he’s writing more from the inside than the outside where he used to reside. In the 80’s, Lupica was fearless. He wasn’t afraid to criticize anyone, and he never backed down from a controversy.  I didn’t always agree with him, but he always made me think, which is something I hold in higher esteem.

Lupica used to do a Sunday column called “Shooting From The Lip.” It was basically him writing about whatever was on his mind. Just short little pops on things, without going into too much depth. It was the first thing I read every Sunday morning.

In writing this blog, I get a lot of information. Some of it is just tidbits of interest that, despite having value, just aren’t enough to write a piece about. So, today I’d like to offer a little tip of the hat to Mike Lupica and share some thoughts and observations that are running through my head at the moment. Maybe you’ll find them useful and interesting or maybe not… but here we go.

STATE HITS

This year’s testing fiasco doesn’t show any signs of abatement. Lawmakers are still debating what to do about TNReady and teachers are still going to pay a price, as this year’s test scores will be included in teacher evaluations. As TNEd Report’s Andy Spears points out, “You have data from the old test, a skipped year, data from last year’s test (the first time TNReady had truly been administered), and data from this year’s messed up test.” It’s a little bit crazy, don’t you think? There is still a little time to contact your legislators and let them know you are not okay with this. Professional educator Amanda Kail gives you the how and why.

Betsy G is a high school teacher in Tennessee and member of the Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. She recognizes the need for consistency in education and takes the time to point out that in Tennessee, it ain’t happening. An excellent piece that I encourage you to read.

It does appear that the TNDOE is getting serious about the Achievement School District. Yesterday it was announced that Memphis’s Sharon Griffin has been named the new superintendent of the ASD. It’s hard to find any fault with this decision and the state deserves props for making it. Griffin has deep roots in Memphis and comes to the job with a long and proven track record. In the past, the argument has been made that those who led the ASD weren’t educators at heart. No one can make that argument against Sharon Griffin. Griffin has been the chief of schools for Shelby County Schools since January 2017 and has been a teacher and leader in Memphis education for more than 25 years.

According to an article in ChalkbeatTN, Tennessee met only five of 10 quality benchmarks designed by a national advocacy organization that released its annual preschool report last week. The report criticized the state for its lack of both a rigorous curriculum and a system that measures improvement in classroom quality. That’s according to the “State of Preschool 2017,” a report released last week by the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University. This is what always makes me nervous about universal Pre-K. I’m a believer as long as the curriculum is rooted in play-based instruction and lots of unstructured play time for our youngest kids. Those ideas often run afoul of rigor and accountability, therefore raising red flags for me.

Williamson County Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney is having a good news/bad news kind of week. The good news is that he’s expected to ease back into work next week after a very serious health scare. Bad news is that he has to make a stop in court first. Looney appeared in court this morning for a hearing on an assault charge. The assault charge — one of two filed against Looney — stems from an incident at Franklin High School on February 20 involving a student having a psychological crisis. I continue to say this case is just bizarre and the charges just aren’t congruent with the Mike Looney I know. The good news is that both charges were dropped today.

LOCAL YOKELS

The city of Nashville breathed a sigh of relief with the Monday capture of the Waffle House shooter.  The shooter was apprehended in the early afternoon in a field behind Cane Ridge ES. Which as far as I’m concerned, should serve as notice that we got lucky. While MNPS schools were on lockout, which means nobody was allowed to enter the building once school was in session, there was little protection provided for kids at the bus stop or teachers working car duty. It’s not a far stretch of the imagination to envision that a gunman who randomly shot up a Waffle House full of strangers the night before might decide to do the same with a school.

Cane Ridge ES had one police officer in the front of the building (in his car) and no other presence at all. Reinking was found directly behind the school, and I’m assuming he was there all morning. At one point, the policeman went around back to do a walk through, at which point the school was completely vulnerable. Cane Ridge has over 1,000 students who entered the school that day, and the way it is set up it would have been very easy for Reinking to come down from the woods and pick people off with the pistol he had in his backpack. If that had happened, we’d be having a whole different conversation today. It shouldn’t be enough that it didn’t happen.

At last night’s town hall meeting, Nashville Mayor David Briley revealed that when he visited one of the Waffle House shooting victims in the hospital, he asked if there is anything he could do for her. She asked if he could do something about the potholes on I-440.

Waffle House hero James Shaw, Jr., raised almost $100K for shooting victims through a GoFundMe account. He continues to prove that he is an example for all of us.

Looks like the current MNPS Chief of Schools feels like he is ready to go from understudy to star. This week it was revealed that he is a finalist for the Superintendent job in Jacksonville. If you click on his name in the linked article, you will get a look at his complete application package, which provides some interesting info. Particularly interesting were his answers to the question, “What accomplishments are you most proud of?” His first answer is, “The opening of two ELL schools which are now leading the nation in how to support students from immigrant families.” Surely he is not referring to the Prince George’s International High School and the International High School at Langley Park.

Those schools are actually schools-within-schools. ELL kids attend separate classes, walk the halls at different times, and eat lunch at separate times, ensuring limited interaction with the general population of the main schools. It’s a policy that has faced charges of segregation and discrimination. For the first couple of years, students were housed in portables. Those schools were opened in 2015, and in 2016, Narcisse was in Nashville. In 2017, they served just under 400 students combined.

Dr. Narcisse also cites the opening of an early college in MNPS and the creating of STEAM in all MNPS middle schools. Neither of these two actions are completed. Shouldn’t the endeavors that you are most proud of be ones that have actually been put in place and are producing results? I mean, if we are hiring based on ideas… Lord knows, I have some. The finalist will be announced towards the end of May. I don’t know who to wish good luck to, Dr. Narcisse or Duval County.

Last week, MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepherd put out a press release accusing Phil Williams of Channel 5 of producing FAKE NEWS. This week, budget and finance chair Mary Pierce doubled down on that trope in her newsletter, stating in her budget timeline: April 13-14: Canceled Board Retreat (not a secret meeting as reported). We pay Panasonic a fair amount of money to advise and train the board; perhaps they should schedule some time for training on Tennessee Sunshine Laws. These days I’m thankful that Keith Durbin of Metro Nashville Government forced us to go through it when I was on the NECAT board.

Let me clarify. I don’t believe the board was accused of holding “secret meetings.” They were accused of not following Tennessee State Sunshine laws. Which ironically were created in part to protect governing bodies against charges of holding secret meetings.

Adequate public notice of all regular and special meetings must be given.  T.C.A. § 8-44-103;

Since the arrival of Dr. Joseph, more and more business has been moved to committees. While board meetings are held on the same days each month, committee meetings vary in their frequency, and their placement on the published schedule has been hit and miss. Board retreats are never on the schedule.

The minutes of the meetings must be recorded and open to public inspection and at a minimum must contain a record of the persons present, all motions, proposals and resolutions offered, the results of any votes taken, and a record of individual votes in the event of a roll call.  T.C.A. § 8-44-104(a).

Want some fun? Call up the MNPS Communications Department and ask them for the minutes from any of the board retreats. I suspect you’ll get a similar response to the one I got when it comes to committee meetings. They don’t exist.

The bottom line is that the MNPS school board has been in violation of the State Sunshine Laws all year long. Somebody finally called them on it. That doesn’t equate to FAKE NEWS. Board members may defend their actions by citing intent. Intent is not compliance. I think somebody owes Phil Williams an apology, though I doubt he’ll get it. I’m also baffled that the MNPS Public Information Officer didn’t offer better counsel to the board chair. After all, one is a communication specialist hired to deliver news to the community that presents the school district and its officers in the best light, and the other is not.

In further irony, all MNPS responses to open records requests now come with the following disclaimer:

Exceeding Great Expectations
Per Tennessee Open Records Law and the district’s Release of Public Records Policy (§ 10 -7-503), MNPS reserves the right to assess a charge for employee labor that is reasonably necessary to produce large records requests. No charge will accrue for the first one (1) hour incurred by personnel in producing the requested material however, after the first initial hour a charge will accrue based on the hourly wage of the employee(s) required to produce the record. This charge will be in addition to any copying costs and will also apply to all records provided electronically. Payment is required prior to receipt of the record(s). If you do not wish to proceed with this request, please email the public records specialist at publicrecords@mnps.org

Ah… if only they were the first to think of this idea.

Here is a clarification for you: unauthorized purchase requests (UPR) arise when policy is not followed. So whether you have 2, or you have 80, they are the result of policy not being followed. It’s wonderful that a policy is created to track them, but again, that is a measurement and not a correction. Maybe this could be a subject for Panasonic to cover as well. Unless that falls under the scope of a different consultant.

At some point, someone is going to have to address the elephant in the room when it comes to the MNPS school board. As a candidate for school board myself, I really didn’t want it to be me to awaken the Kraken, but if nobody else will… what’s the story with board member Will Pinkston’s attendance as of late? To call it spotty would be generous. He missed both this last meeting as well as the board’s budget presentation to the mayor. When he is in attendance, he seldom stays for the entire meeting. So far none of the media have commented on this. I don’t believe that would be the case if Pierce or Gentry were absent this often.

The panel to recommend the new principal for Antioch High School convened this week. The three candidates interviewed were a central office employee and two middle school principals; all three are African-American. Of the 2 middle school candidates, in my opinion, one would probably be pretty good. The other would just be a rinse and repeat of the past two years as indicated by the conditions of the school where they are currently employed. Let’s watch this unfold. Antioch High School deserves more from Nashville.

Does anybody know if former Knoxville superintendent Jim McIntyre is still attending MNPS executive leadership team meetings?

Here’s some unsolicited advice for central office employees visiting individual schools. Act like you would if everybody is watching. Parking in the handicapped zone if you are not handicapped is not an option. No matter how long you plan on staying. You know who you are. Stop it.

On a side note, culture get built based on the way leaders act when they think no one is looking. Showing up late for meetings, coming in unprepared, treating others with rudeness – these all communicate implied consent. Those behaviors that you model will be replicated. That’s how culture is created.

Scott Bennett was a teacher at Hillsboro High School until his wife took a job in South Africa. Now he’s a blogger trying to find his way. Kinda like me. Follow his writings. You won’t be disappointed.

Tusculum Elementary School has not been able to produce a play with the kids for at least 5 years. Next month that changes. Mark the dates.

In surveying the field for this year’s school board races, I think Nashville has an opportunity to have a much more civil conversation this go-round than it has in the past. It would be nice if we all adopted a goal to have more people involved in our schools after the election, rather than less. That hasn’t been the case the last several cycles.

Just a note – it is possible to support both Reading Recovery and Orton-Gillingham. Just saying.

Trivia night is coming to the Overton Cluster on May 3rd at 6pm. It’s a little friendly competition between schools in the cluster. I think it could be a lot of fun!

Under the direction of Mr. Trey Jacobs, the Nashville School of the Arts Concert Choir “Paragon” will perform the national anthem at the Nashville Sounds game on Thursday, April 26. The group recently received superior ratings at the Middle Tennessee Vocal Association’s Annual Festival both in performance and sight-reading. The group is composed of 45 members in grades 10-12.

I would like to close with another tip of the hat to Channel 5’s investigative reporter Phil Williams. Thanks to his reporting on lead in school drinking water, a bill is now headed to the desk of Tennessee Governor Haslam that will require all school districts to test water annually and take action if levels are found to be high.

The legislation failed to make it out of committee last year – and it appeared to be doomed again this year because of a lack of funding. That changed last week after NewsChannel 5 Investigates called attention to the bill’s precarious position in a series of tweets, and House Speaker Beth Harwell intervened. A big thank you to all involved.

The Metropolitan Nashville Government Office of Internal Audit provides employees with a means to anonymously communicate any fraud, waste, or abuse concerns. You can contact the Metro Nashville Hotline 24 hours a day to report any fraud, waste, or abuse problems toll-free at 1-877-647-3335 or https://login.redflagreporting.com/. Use Client Code ‘Metro’ and Organization Name ‘Metro’ when reporting.

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

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

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

THE TVAAS CANARD CONTINUES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLL RESPONSES

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

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

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

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

Posted in Uncategorized

THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

QUICK HITS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Posted in Uncategorized

OF EFFICACY AND EQUITY

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

TNNOTReady PART 5

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

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

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

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

MEMPHIS TEACHER BONUSES

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

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

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

BUDGET BROUHAHA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POLL RESULTS

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the write-ins:

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

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

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

Here are the write-in votes:

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

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

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

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