Posted in Uncategorized

TOO MUCH

This post isn’t this week’s usual early week update. I was too busy enjoying President’s Day with my kids to write that. But I saw this,  written by an MNPS teacher, and I felt it deserved wider recognition. So I’m sharing to a wider audience. I didn’t ask permission. So I hope they’ll grant forgiveness where I failed to secure permission.

This morning, we listened to a 911 call from a teacher at Columbine. She was terrified. Her students were under the library tables and she could hear the shooter outside the door. The dispatcher asked her to lock the doors, but she was paralyzed with fear and couldn’t bring herself to get that close to the shooter, knowing she had babies of her own at home.

We found out later that 10 of the 12 deaths that day occurred in that library.

Would I be brave enough to face a shooter and lock the door? Could I make the best decision at the drop of a hat for the safety of my students? I’d like to say I would, but who knows.

Society loves to hate teachers. All you have to do is read a few Facebook comments to see it. But in an active shooter situation, teachers are expected to be heroes; to give their lives for their students.

I don’t know what to think. At what point is it too much? Is it the 8,000 hours of overtime for no pay? The daily abuse we receive from people over the phone, email, or car rider line? The expectation to use our bodies to shield students from gunfire?

This job is TOO. MUCH.

I’ll be back tomorrow with a regularly schedule post.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized

PULLING PAPERS

Over the last decade, I have been, what I guess you could call, a community activist. My wife and I bought a house in Woodbine shortly after our marriage in 2005, and I immediately dived into community activism. I was fortunate to be part of a community on the upswing, and over 7 years I helped organize a neighborhood festival, close down a public nuisance, fight for zoning changes, and assist in the campaign of one the best Council Members the area has ever seen.

About 5 years ago, I gravitated to focusing on public education. It was a natural shift, as I am the spouse of a public school teacher and a father to two public school children. For the last few years, I have been writing this blog that focuses on education issues in order to illuminate and to educate. I started out focusing on national issues, but like former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once said, “All politics are local.” The last couple of years, I’ve focused extensively on the issues facing Metro Nashville Public Schools.

In order to do the subject justice, I’ve committed to forming an extensive network of educators in order to get a deeper understanding of the issues we face. As the spouse of an educator, I can testify that though what’s on the surface might seem like a fantastic idea, things are not always what they appear. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve expressed an opinion to my wife only to have her explain the errors in my reasoning. It’s long been my opinion that I’m not the smartest man in the room; I just know a lot of really smart people and I’ve worked very hard to earn their trust. That trust translates into getting their honest opinions, something I don’t take lightly.

During my years of community service, I’ve often reflected on former President Barack Obama’s story of being a community organizer. He loved the work but grew frustrated because of the limited ability provided to make meaningful and lasting change. That frustration led to him seeking public office. It’s a narrative I can relate to. And now it’s a narrative that led me to pull papers last week to run for the MNPS School Board seat in District 2.

I pulled those papers with a few caveats. Having been deeply involved in the last two election cycles, and seeing first hand how dirty they got, I am vowing to compete in a different manner. I am not going to put on my brown shirt while my perceived enemies put on their green shirts and we spend the summer hurling vitriol at each other. I think one of the great tragedies that transpired as a direct result of those elections is that none of the losing candidates are still deeply involved in school issues. The experience of running for office was so bad that they retreated from leadership roles.

At a time when we need more people involved in education, we are driving people out of the conversation. If a person feels strongly enough about education issues to commit to seeking office, shouldn’t we welcome them instead of trying to shame them? I share a part in the blame for those former candidates not being involved in the larger conversation, and as a form of amends, I’m going to keep what happened to them in the forefront of my campaign and attempt to do everything I can to ensure that we invite more people to the table and not to try to make it an exclusive club. Winning is important, but how you win is equally important.

The depth of personal attacks leveled at candidates during the last election cycle was, upon reflection, abhorrent. A life well lived comes with as many mistakes as it does successes. My life is no exception. I’ve been a recovering alcoholic for 18 years. Prior to that, I ran rock and roll clubs here in town. If you are in search of stories to paint me in a bad light, those are readily available and have been for years. But I’ve always believed that we are all works in process and the goal is to be a lifelong learner. It’s a goal I’ve fully embraced. I don’t run from my past, nor do I allow it to be my definition.

I am going to do my best to focus on why I am the best candidate – the level of my current involvement, the network I’ve built, my knowledge of the system, my willingness to be a voice for teachers – and not on why the other candidates are not worthy. As far as I am concerned, they are all worthy candidates, and I look forward to spirited conversations about the issues. How my opponents choose to campaign is entirely up to them. As I tell my children, do not focus on what others do, but rather on your own actions. That is my intention, and time will tell if I’m successful.

Do not expect to hear me engaging in charter school rhetoric. My position on charter schools is well documented and all you have to do is read my writings. I see no need to spend a summer rehashing those positions. Those who hold different positions are not my enemies, but just people with a different opinion. I don’t have to embrace their opinions to learn from them; I just have to respect them. And I must say I’ve enjoyed our interactions over the past year.

Throughout the past summer and fall, I’ve engaged in conversations with many who once would have been considered opponents. While we don’t agree on the role of charter schools, we do agree on a number of big issues. Those issues include, but are not limited to, teacher recruitment and retention, capital needs for our existing schools, a deeper discussion on discipline policies and the development of restorative practices, and the prudent use of our financial resources. If we address those issues in a meaningful manner, the charter school discussion will become more focused. Instead of fighting against something, it’s imperative that we all fight for all of our schools – traditional, charter, magnet.

Every one of those schools are made up of families who made a decision to invest in them. Families who are residents of Nashville. Families who are represented by the Metro Nashville Public School Board.

In addition to my aforementioned experience, I’ve also sat on councils for English Learners, gifted education, and have been deeply involved in literacy initiatives and the Parent Advisory Committee, on a district and cluster level. I’ve taken time to learn about the challenges facing our children who are diagnosed with dyslexia and to deep dive into MAP testing and the role it can play. I don’t say this to extoll my knowledge, but rather as a means to demonstrate that I have developed the access to get the most knowledgeable people to the table. A table that has been lacking their presence for too long.

By respecting the views of my former enemies, I am not dismissing the views of my allies. We share common beliefs that are also well documented. Beliefs that form the core of my philosophy. Beliefs that I’m not afraid to defend or modify if presented with valid counterarguments. I talked with an educator last week who told me that any parent who criticizes her programs is invited to be on her council. She enjoys hearing their opinion, they are obviously engaged, and she has nothing to hide. That’s a philosophy that I can truly embrace.

One of the big questions, at least for me, is what will become of the Dad Gone Wild blog. I honestly don’t know. It is my belief that it has become an important community forum and one that I am committed to continuing. Despite the many potential pitfalls, I have worked too hard to build this forum up to potentially let it fade away.

When my stepdaughter was 16 years old, I made a commitment to her and myself. If there was something she needed to hear, I would deliver it, even if it meant her never speaking to me again. My love for her was that deep and her well-being took precedent over everything else. I feel the same about public schools. Winning is important, but it’s not the only thing. My writings may hand my opponents the race, but if they lead to greater illumination, understanding, or action… so be it.

The irony that the seat I seek was originally sought by current board member JoAnn Brannon to counter the policies of then-Director of Schools Pedro Garcia is not lost on me. Some will accuse me of seeking the seat in order to grind an axe with the current Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. In this case, I am lucky to have a model like Dr. Brannon to emulate. Over the years, she has done exemplary work and has always focused on policies over personalities. It’s a standard I will strive to achieve.

I did not pull papers to run as a reaction to Dr. Joseph. I pulled papers because I feel that it is vital to change the conversation. I have no desire to be a part of the fastest improving district in the country. I do have a desire to ensure that we have a school system that provides an exceptional education to all kids and does it in an environment that is supportive, and where everyone – parents, students, teachers, administrators, community members – all feel welcome and supported.

To achieve that, we need an honest conversation fueled by increased transparency and an increased focus on student/teacher needs. A conversation that at times could be uncomfortable, and perhaps even painful, but we owe it to kids to hold that ongoing conversation.

I am fully aware that I may come off as idealistic, and maybe a little nutty, but it is my hope that enough of you feel idealistic, and maybe a little nutty, that we can make a difference together. I am not fond of politicians who talk about what they will do for you. This work is all about relationships, and I’ve been fortunate to have the opportunity to build some of the strongest. To me it’s always been about what we can do together, and that begins with an honest conversation.

I want to invite you along for the ride, and win, lose or draw, I’m not going anywhere.

QUICK HITS

Over the last couple of years, we have heard a lot of discussion on the effectiveness of teacher prep programs. This discussion lead to Tennessee creating a teacher prep report card. That report card was released this week. According to Chalkbeat TN, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville became the first public university to achieve a top score under the State Board of Education’s new grading system, now in its second year. And Middle Tennessee State University and East Tennessee State University also improved their scores. For the rest of the schools, scores remained about the same. The report is designed to give a snapshot of the effectiveness of the state’s teacher preparation programs, a front-burner issue in Tennessee since a 2016 report said that most of them aren’t adequately equipping teachers to be effective in the classroom. The report card is not without critics though:

“It’s a real challenge to capture in one report the complexity of preparing our candidates to be teachers, especially when you’re comparing very different programs across the state,” said Lisa Zagumny, dean of the College of Education at Tennessee Tech, which increased its points in 2017 but not enough to improve its overall score.

She said Tech got dinged over student growth scores, but that only a third of its graduates went on to teach in tested subjects. “And yet our observation scores are very high,” added Associate Dean Julie Baker. “We know we’re doing something right because our candidates who go on to teach are being scored very high by their principals.”

Speaking of teachers, there is a MNPS teacher job fair this weekend. Per MNPS:

Don’t miss your opportunity to be a part of the fastest-growing urban district filled with opportunities to effect change daily. We are looking for educational support professionals for all school-based positions including teachers and para-educators.

Join us on this Saturday, Feb .17, for the opportunity to network and interview with principals across all tier levels. Not only will principals be conducting on-site interviews but they will be making recommendations for hire as well.

Register for our career fair: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm

Love this definition of Rigor.

Vesia Wilson-Hawkins continues her efforts to try to shine a light on the district’s performance via an Op-ed piece in the Tennessean.

Kindergarten registration for the 2018-19 school year is open. Make sure you bring all the necessary documents with you to register your child.

Not every book is for every reader. Sometimes the book you choose just isn’t the book for you… and that’s OK! Growing as a reader is being able to hone in on the books that bring you joy, and the ones that don’t. Kids need the opportunity to make that choice.

Per Hillsboro Principal Shuler Pelham, ISR used to be “the best kept secret” in MNPS. Not anymore! Read more about this great program at HHS and how it provides some of the most challenging and rigorous instruction in Tennessee.

School Board member Amy Frogge has some thoughts on school budgets that she shares via the TNEd Report.

Here is a sobering thought for you. These number reflect an average day in MNPS. Number of teacher vacancies today: 943. Number of subs who picked up the jobs: 500. I would argue that while we were busy converting middle schools to STEAM schools and buying scripted curriculum, we should have been investing in teachers. But that’s just me.

My good friend Mary Holden is heading back to the classroom. And that’s a good thing.

I just finished Michael Connelly’s latest, The Late Show. If you like good writing, police procedurals, and action, you can’t go wrong with this one.

Brandi Carlile has a new album out. It’s produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings with original cover art by Scott Avett of the Avett Brothers.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now for our weekly Q & A. I think we have some good questions this week, and I really need your participation.

The first question is about me pulling papers to run for school board. Good idea? Bad idea? What do you think? Nothing like tackling my first test right out of the box.

Questions 2 and 3 arise out of events that transpired down in Florida this past week. I believe that we are past the stage of talking, and at some point we need to actually do something. I’d like to get your feelings about putting an armed officer in every school or arming teachers. Are these viable solutions or another trip down the wrong path? You tell me.

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

A PROMISE TO TRY DENIED

One of the primary goals of this blog has always been to amplify the voice of teachers. Amanda Kail is one of the most dedicated teachers you’ll ever meet. She’s one of those people who you sometimes have to stand back and marvel at, because their energy seems inexhaustible and their depth of knowledge boundless. She is a fair-minded individual, endlessly in pursuit of solutions over fixing blame. As an EL instructor, she has first hand knowledge of the many challenges our students face.

Several years ago, the state of Tennessee did away with the right for teachers, and the union that represents them, to engage in collective bargaining. A new process was implemented called collaborative conferencing. Collaborative conferencing is an elaborate undertaking with a lot of rules. Rules that are arguably set up to reduce the power of the teacher’s union as much as they are to create a quality working environment, with fair compensation, for teachers.

MNPS undertook the collaborative conferencing process last year after securing the required number of signatures. A dedicated team met and hashed out details. Those details were to form the basis of a MOU that was scheduled to be voted on by the MNPS school board at last night’s meeting. That didn’t happen.

The words below are Kail’s from her Facebook page, and I felt they were worthy of a wider audience:

Our union finished negotiations for teacher MOUs in October. Last night was the first time our school board had even seen the completed document. In fact, it has yet to be sent to the budget committee. To say that I and other teachers who gave up considerable time and energy to bring and win the vote to negotiate, not to mention undertake the actual negotiations are frustrated is an understatement. In five months, the document that spells out our salary and working conditions was not enough of a priority to the district to even merit reading. A document that was already agreed to by the management’s own team may have to, in Dr. Joseph’s words, “go back to the drawing board.”

Meanwhile, there are over 100 vacancies in the district.

Parents and teachers- we have got to stand up together. Schools without teachers will not improve student learning. Millions of dollars in curricula with questionable value will not improve student learning. Administrators with six-figure salaries will not improve student learning. And we cannot expect our charity to take care of everything that will.

Meanwhile, I am about to leave for work early because I am teaching a middle school student who is illiterate in his first language as well as English to read. Because his overcrowded RTI class is staffed by one of our many new teachers who is trained neither in literacy nor EL. Because inadequate budgets have forced our school to spread teachers very thin to cover classes. I do this on my own time, with curriculum I purchased myself, because despite our district’s high EL population and low reading scores, I have not been able to find curriculum for adolescent emergent EL readers. Barring meetings, I do this 5 days a week. I am not special. Almost every teacher I know has a pack of “adoptees” to whom we donate considerable time, money, and love. THAT is what improves student learning.

Before I left for last night’s board meeting, I witnessed a teacher give a grandparent a few dollars to buy gas so they could drive home. I watched an ESP mentoring troubled students in the car-rider area. I drove past the cemetery where a student is buried after our teachers fundraised the money for the family to have a funeral. All this from a group of people who can no longer afford to live in Nashville, not because we are saints, but because we are committed to the communities we serve. That is just who we are.

I understand that there are tremendous pressures on the board, particularly when it comes to budget commitments. But when something so fundamental to teachers as working conditions and salaries are continually relegated to the back burner, the message is that we are being taken for granted. Those 100 vacancies suggest that is a very unwise assumption. Unless the district can make passing our MOU a priority, that number will grow, and our goal of being “the fastest improving district” will remain a dream.

What Amanda Kail speaks to in the above passage is the truth as she sees it from the perspective of someone doing the work daily. The bottom line is that the district is hemorrhaging teachers. Over 2,800 kids are currently receiving instruction via a digital platform because we can’t find enough certified teachers. Dr. Joseph’s solution seems to lie in increased recruitment and the creation of a Teach For America-type certification program.

You can’t focus on filling a bucket if you don’t plug the holes first. This MOU would go a long way towards sending a message to teachers that they are valued by the district. In pulling the MOU vote, Dr. Joseph cited budgetary implications. I’m not sure what those could possibly be, because an MOU is not a binding agreement. If they had approved the MOU, the district would not be committing to designating any increased resources to teachers. What they would be committing to is making every effort to try to give teachers what they need to be successful. Apparently even trying is too much to ask for at this juncture.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

LANGUAGE IS IMPORTANT

Once again the week begins with a heavy heart due to the loss of a child’s life. The Oliver Middle School family is in mourning this week over the loss of 8th grade student Ariana Binave as a result of a medical condition. Principal Steve Sheaffer released a statement saying,

“She was deeply loved by her family, friends, and by the Oliver faculty and staff. Prior to attending Oliver, she was a student at Shayne Elementary. She was seldom seen without a smile on her face and was an absolute joy to have in school.” 

There will be a collection on Monday and Tuesday morning before school to help the family with funeral expenses. Checks can be made out to OMS PTA. Our prayers go out to the family and the Oliver community.

GUN VIOLENCE CONTINUES

On Wednesday, a White’s Creek High School student was shot and killed inside an East Nashville apartment. He was 15 years old. On Friday, just after school let out, a 17-year-old former student was shot just outside the Pearl-Cohn HS campus. The Friday night basketball game at Stratford HS was stopped and ultimately canceled after information was received that 2 individuals were carrying guns. That’s a lot of guns around a lot of kids in one week. If you are not already alarmed, you should be.

I’m sure there will be a lot of blame placed on the schools and suppositions made. The reality is that these are not really school problems, but rather, societal problems. Nashville enjoys its reputation as an “It” city, but how much of an “It” city can you be if your youth are dying regularly as a result of violent acts? At some point, the city as a whole needs to collectively declare the violence unacceptable and work to find a solution. Instead, though, I suspect we’ll continue to try to put more of the weight on our schools. To their credit, despite a lack of resources, our schools are attempting to tackle these issues as best they can.

Over the last several years, statistics have come to light showing that a disproportionate number of students being suspended are Black and Hispanic children. Further data illuminates the negative consequences of suspending children. In order to counter balance these negative outcomes, more and more schools have been turning to Social Emotional Learning programs and Restorative Justice practices. Metro Nashville Public Schools has seen some very positive outcomes where programs have been implemented with fidelity.

As we head into budget season, talk has begun to heat up for increased financial resources for the further implementation of restorative practices in MNPS schools. Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has been quoted in the Tennessee Tribune as saying:

“We are looking at cultural awareness training to pick up implicit bias, training to help teachers understand how they can build stronger relationships with kids, helping teachers think about how they can help students resolve conflicts.”

In the Tennessean, Juvenile Court Judge Sheila Calloway and Dr. Joseph have an editorial piece that gives very disturbing statistics:

In 2017, 54 children were shot in Davidson County and 10 of those died. Arrests of children on weapons violations increased nearly 24 percent from 2016, while robbery arrests were up nearly 22 percent.    

The editorial goes on to talk about the ways that the court and schools can work together through restorative practices to address this crisis. There is a promise to increase focus through funding in the upcoming budget:

We can choose to invest in our children’s success, or we will end up spending much more to address their failure – in the form of additional healthcare and criminal justice costs, as well as the negative impacts to the local workforce and property values.

All of this is very laudatory, but at some point the devil is going to be in the details. We can start by defining exactly what “restorative practice” means. I know what it’s not, because every time I raise a criticism I get a response like “That’s not restorative practice being done right” or “That wouldn’t be the case if they were really implementing restorative practices.” Ok, so what is restorative practice? What does it actually look like? What are the components?

Here again is where things get tricky. Because when you start trying to pin down what restorative practices actually mean, you get vague answers like, “Well, it’s not a one size fits all” or “It’s about meeting students where they are.” These are beautiful thoughts, but they are not definitions, nor is, “Well it’s a complete shift in culture” or “It’s a complete different way of looking at things.” People need more details.

When people don’t have details, they tend to create their own narratives and those narratives are seldom supportive. The narrative becomes that it’s all about prayer circles. Or it’s a lack of accountability. Or kids just focus on their role in the equation. Or we focus on the minority of kids at the expense of the majority. Or it’s all a bunch of touchy-feely hogwash. I’m sure all of you have heard the same and more. None of these narratives are helpful.

Despite not having details, I’m giving tepid support to the concept of restorative practices because some people I really, really respect extol the virtues of it. But the conversation has to become more concrete. If we say we are going to devote more resources to it in the budget, then what does that mean? Are we looking for $100k more or 20 million dollars, a more realistic number if we are going to things right? How is that money going to be used?

Dr. Joseph talks about training teachers, and that sounds good if you say it fast, but when is that training supposed to take place and what is it going to look like? What other training gets sacrificed in order to make time for RJ training? Will instructional time or planning time be given up? Teachers don’t exactly have wide open gaps in their daily schedule waiting to be filled. Is this going to need to be a training that takes place over the summer, and if so, then teachers need to be made aware of that potential probably a year ahead of time. We may envision that teachers are kicking it by the pool drinking daiquiris during the summer months, but the reality is that those months are filled with acquiring advanced degrees, traveling, or working a second job. Advance notice is going to be required.

This conversation is not dissimilar to one I had with Dr. Schunn Turner last year in regards to the district’s Encore program. There needs to be a focus on using language that gives an accurate description to what is expected to transpire on a day-to-day basis. In regards to Encore, there were some very good changes taking place, but parents couldn’t recognize them because the language being utilized painted too vague a picture. After Dr. Turner presented parents with a clearer picture of what the actual details included, she was able to secure more support.

At some point, that is what the conversation on restorative practices has to look like as well. Will be there be a counselor at every school? What will be their defined role? There is already a schedule of infractions and their penalties – is that effective? What will training look like? How will the district provide supports? Some proponents of restorative justice may be scratching their head in puzzlement right now, thinking that this is already being done. And maybe it is in a language that those deeply entrenched in the philosophy understand. Because if it was in a language understood by all, there would be more buy-in and fewer questions. So how about a little translation for us lay people? This conversation is too important to not have it be crystal clear.

QUICK HITS

Guess who may be having second thoughts about running for re-election to the school board and has pulled papers for just that purpose? Let’s see if an announcement comes soon.

Last week I told you about Rocketship charter schools in Nashville facing some challenges this year. Apparently there is even more news that hasn’t been reported. Purportedly over Christmas break, Rocketship NE fired their principal and the assistant principal resigned. An administrator was brought down from one of Rocketship’s schools in DC to replace Bianca Jones as principal. The administrator quickly cleaned house and forced the AP to resign. On one hand I give Rocketship credit for recognizing a problem and taking action. I know a high school in the Southeast quadrant who could benefit from some decisive action. On the other hand, that’s a lot of change in the middle of the year.

I thought I’d share some more details on the Encore program with you. The universal screener cost an additional $100K this year. The results, per MNPS, are as follows:

720 new second grade students at 70 elementary school sites qualify for Encore as a result of this Universal Screener. The number of second grade English Language Learners (EL) – including students in Tiers 1 through 4 – identified for Encore qualification increased 1,771% as a result of this assessment. English Language Learners (EL) – including students in Tiers 1 through 4 – make up 17.2% of all newly qualified students. This Universal Screener also identified 304 second grade students performing in the top 5th percentile nationally on the NNAT®-3. In Spring 2017, this grade level cohort’s first grade teachers only referred approximately 75 students who performed in the top 5th percentile nationally; the Universal Screener identified approximately 4x as many high potential students who are in need of advanced academic support through the Encore Program.

I think that’s pretty good news. The Encore assessment window for referred Kindergarteners is coming up at the end of April. Kindergarteners referred for Encore assessment will receive letters home in late March or early April.

This weekend I did a little extra reading. Through an open records request, I received the official evaluations by Dr. Joseph on each of the Chiefs. Well, all of them except for Dr. Felder. For some reason, despite these having been completed back in September, I’ve yet to receive hers. The reviews are about what you expect. Dr. Narcisse has a composite score of 3.3. Chris Henson has a composite score of 3.8. Jana Carlisle has a composite score of 3.8. Carlisle is the only chief with a 5. She scored that on the results category. But wait a minute… oh, never mind.

Here’s the latest from educator Russ Walsh in his series of blog posts focusing on when readers struggle.

When it comes to purveyors of power pop, few can rival the exuberance of the Swedish band Franz Ferdinand. Their latest, Always Ascending, doesn’t disappoint.

Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise in the latest by one of my favorite authors, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.”

POLL RESULTS

Time now to take a quick look at the week’s questions.

Our first question had to do with the recent division of MNPS management into quadrants. As far as you are concerned, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Sixty-one percent of you answered that you could see no change. The number two answer, at 11%, acknowledge some improvement. Interestingly enough, I have heard that within the quadrants, tier level meetings have been re-introduced. Hmmm… who’d have thunk it. Here are the write-ins:

Love it! 1
Are they supporting our work or are we supporting theirs? 1
Seems to be an additional level of admin for no reason 1
Ineffective 1
Waste of money 1
Designed to get rid of the old executive officers 1
Poor culture is poor culture no matter how you structure it.

Question two asked for your opinion on the soon-to-be introduced MOU between teachers and the district. Unsurprisingly, most of you were withholding judgement. The number one answer, at 32%, was that the proof would be in the enforcing. The number two answer, at 18%, was “I can’t read all of that.” Remember that if you can attend tomorrow’s board meeting at 5 pm, please do, and wear red in support of teachers. Here are the write-in votes:

95% of it seems like they just took current language from employee handbook 1
Should say-Fire Dr. Felder 1
MNEA member and RA. I don’t any specifics of MOU. 1
What is planning time?

Lastly, I wanted to see what your response to the Mayor’s situation was at this time. The results were fairly mixed. Twenty-eight percent of you felt she should resign. But, 19% of you felt she should just move forward. The same number also expressed being exhausted with the whole situation. This weekend’s Tennessean had an excellent piece written by the Rev. Jeff Obafemi Carr, an award-winning activist and filmmaker, and the founder and chief spiritual officer of the Infinity Fellowship Interfaith Gathering. I urge you to read it.

Here are the write-in votes. The first comes closest to my thoughts on the whole situation.

As a friend, I hope she stays, as a progressive, I want a new leader 1
She has not supported teachers. Resign! 1
Disappointed

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized

A QUESTION OF FOCUS

When writing these pieces, I often feel like a curmudgeon shouting “Get off my yard” to the kids. I don’t think of myself as a negative person by nature, but I am driven by an overarching desire to have honest conversations. And sometimes that entails shining a light in unlit places. When it comes to public education issues, most of those involved have the best of intentions, but due to the complexity of those issues we are often neglectful of unintended consequences. There is a tendency, in my opinion, to focus on short term effects, and frankly often on the wrong stuff.

BLUE RIBBONS AND PEP RALLIES

This week, Metro Nashville Public Schools, along with the Nashville’s Agenda Steering Committee and the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF), announced the winners of this year’s Blue Ribbon Teacher Awards. According to the press release:

“Winners are determined following a rigorous selection process that included a review of evidence of outstanding teaching practices by a team of experts. Applications of semi-finalists are then reviewed by a specially-convened community selection panel. This year, the focus was on recognizing teachers doing outstanding work in one of three areas – literacy instruction, support of English Language Learners and teacher leadership.”

The list is an impressive one, and I’m thrilled to see one of my kids’ teachers on it. She’s a fantastic teacher and very deserving and worthy of recognition along with her peers. But you know who’s not on this list? My son’s teacher who has helped a kid fall in love with learning despite his resistance. The teacher, who on top of providing excellent instruction daily, takes time to ensure that the impoverished families of her students get the medicines that their kids need. The teacher who stays up to midnight every night for months in order to help her kids complete a project based learning assignment. The physical education teacher who takes time out of her day to schedule a parent meeting to find a solution to discipline issues a young male student is facing when she could just as easily pass that responsibility off to others. The teacher who continually inspires a young female student to think deeper and unlock her inert creativity. In my book, every one of those teachers, and more, deserves a Blue Ribbon.

We continually try to paint education as a competitive endeavor. The big problem with that view is that when you introduce competition into the equation, you create, whether intentionally or not, winners and losers. You play the contributions of those who receive awards and downplay the contributions of those who aren’t recognized. That’s the unintended consequence.

I know many of the people on the Blue Ribbon list, and I would bet money that most would quickly give credit to the other teachers in the building where they work. I’m not afraid to say that all recognize teaching as a team sport. It’s easier to show great growth when your students are getting RTI instruction from an exceptional teacher. If you have an art teacher who is inspiring on creativity and increasing kids’ engagement, it becomes easier to impact a child’s life.

Policymakers have tried for years to isolate the factors that determine a great teacher. The truth is great teaching is something you can recognize, but it can’t be quantified. I know that sounds like a contradiction, but think about it for a minute. We recognize that all students have different needs and approaches to learning; therefore, why is it hard to grasp that different teachers have different ways of teaching? Great teaching incorporates a little magic as well.

I’ve expressed in the past that the teacher who had the biggest impact on my life wouldn’t have won a single Blue Ribbon Award for teaching. I’m not even sure that they would have won a Red Ribbon Award. Consider, though, if he had adapted his style in order to fit the criteria required to be considered an award-winning teacher? How different would my life be? My definition of a Blue Ribbon Teacher is one who reaches ANY child, because to that child, that’s all that matters. In that light, I’d like to second the thought of one of my favorite tweets:

Motion to make teaching your heart out every single day ENOUGH. Like just that, just the good teaching. No need to become an administrator, or write a book, or run a TPT store, or start a viral hashtag or any of that. JUST TEACH REALLY WELL FOR A LIFETIME, that’s it.

MNPS is hemorrhaging teachers. Shouldn’t the focus be on honoring all teachers rather than signaling out a select few and thereby potentially sending a message to those not honored that they are not doing enough? There aren’t enough rock stars in the world to move the needle, but there are more than enough tireless, dedicated, quality people willing to do the heavy lifting that it takes to educate a child. We owe them all our thanks.

The root of this sense of competition has come in the door left open by the increased focus on standardized testing. The same people who want to quantify teacher effectiveness have been comfortable ranking our schools for years. It doesn’t matter that evidence has shown over and over that test results are more an indication of socio-economic status than achievement.

MNPS, like many other school districts, has adopted a slogan indicating a desire to be the fastest-improving district in the country. Nothing quantifies that goal rooted in adult desires like standardized testing.

What? You don’t think “fastest improving” is an adult construct? And you still labor under the illusion that the mantra is created for the good of the kids? Go talk to a kid. Ask them what they are looking for out of school. I can almost guarantee if you ask 100 of them, you won’t find 10 who voice a desire to learn faster than kids in other districts. You’ll probably find safety, validation, depth of knowledge, caring, and knowing more about stuff cited much more frequently.

In the name of accountability, more and more emphasis has been placed on standardized test results. The results determine a teacher’s career trajectory. They determine the funding of a school. The results impact the value of real estate in a school district. Nobody wants to buy a house in a district where the school is ranked in the bottom 10%. It’s not surprising that because of these ramifications, schools place more emphasis on the tests and their results.

This increased focus has led to “pep rallies” to inspire student performance. Younger students write letters to older kids encouraging them to do well on the test. The test becomes the celebrant instead of the act of learning. As one educator said to me, “Having a pep rally for TNReady is like having a pep rally for a colonoscopy. No one is cheering for the damn colonoscopy. We’re cheering for the cure from what was holding us back.” It was bad enough when this was happening annually on a state level, but now I see indications that this mindset is slipping down to the local level.

Last year, MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph introduced MAP testing to the district. It’s long been my contention that the reasoning behind this move was that MAP testing was prevalent where he and his team came from in Maryland. They understand how to tailor curriculum in order to show growth through MAP testing. TNReady is a foreign entity to them. So a decision was made to increase the focus on MAP testing in order to counter any negative TNReady results. You can dismiss that theory if you want, but there is no disputing that the district has placed an increased focus on MAP testing results. We moved MAP testing to come before TNReady testing this year because last year’s results might have shown the effects of testing fatigue. I know…

This morning while scrolling through my social media feed, I came across a post extolling students to “stay calm and crush the MAP test.” Yikes! This is a bit problematic on a number of fronts. MAP is given 3 times throughout the year. That means a whole lot of staying calm. Are we going to coach kids up for MAP and then turn around 6 weeks later and coach them up for TNReady? Can we focus on learning and a little less on accountability?

I actually like MAP testing. I’ve spent a lot of time researching it this past month. There are some very beneficial things that can come from MAP results if they are used as intended. MAP is intended as a formative assessment, a teaching tool. It is not intended as an accountability tool. It is not intended as a means to rank schools. Just like a colonoscopy, it’s meant to illuminate an area of need. So let’s leave the pep rallies, both for MAP and TNReady, where they belong, at sporting events, and focus on helping kids develop a love of learning.

QUICK HITS

Next Tuesday is a board meeting, and for teachers and other MNPS employees, it’s a very important one. The long awaited results of recently concluded collaborative conferencing sessions and an MOU with SEIU are to be revealed. If you look at the pre-printed agenda, you can read both. There are are some very good things in the agreement with teachers: Exception pay is raised from $25 per hour to $45 per hour. Planning time for elementary school teachers is set at 60 minutes, with middle school and high school being accorded 50 minutes. The district will pay 75% of a teacher’s insurance package. The grievance process is spelled out more clearly. I think it’s a testimony to all the hard work that went into it.

There is one area of concern, though, and that’s a pay raise. The document states:

The compensation committee will discuss the feasibility of a 5% across-the-board salary increase for teachers for each of the followings school years: 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. It is recommended that experience steps and degreed lanes in the salary scheduled should be maintained to encourage teacher retention.

That is very nice and potentially generous, but it ain’t a guaranteed raise. You might ask who comprises the compensation committee. Take a look:

The Board and the Association agree to establish and maintain a joint Compensation Committee composed of three (3) members appointed by the Administration, four (4) by the Association, and one (1) member of the Board of Education. The committee shall be chaired jointly by a member appointed by the Administration and one by the Association. The committee shall address all compensation issues including but not limited to a long- term salary goal and the structure of the teacher salary schedule. The Compensation Committee shall convene no later than September 15 of each year and report to MNEA and the Board by November 1. For the 2017-18 school year, the committee shall convene as soon as practical.

This year’s budget is getting more and more interesting. MNEA is encouraging people to attend Tuesday’s 5 pm board meeting where the MOU will be discussed. If you are going, please wear red as a sign of support for teachers.

The grade-changing scandal in Prince George’s County Public Schools continues to grow. Previously the focus was on high schools, but now parents of students in middle school and elementary school are expressing concerns. It’s important to note that these are not only recent allegations, but that they stretch back to when current MNPS leadership was employed with PGCPS.

Memphis has its own grade-changing scandal that they are attempting to rectify. One proposed solution is for Shelby County Schools to switch to a standards-based grading system. The standards would be based on the ones set by the state. I’m not sure how I feel about this idea. On one hand, I’m loathe to give the state, and the test, any more power over student learning. On the other hand, I’m not sure how much this policy would do that. More research ahead.

This week produced a nice round of PR focusing on the Tennessee’s RTI2 legislation. If you listen to the state, it’s a booming success. Teachers are not quite as convinced. As always, with apologies to Paul Harvey, Andy Spears gives you the rest of the story.

Spears also dispels the narrative of Tennessee being among the fastest improving states in the union:

That’s interesting when you look at the 2011 rankings and see that in overall education climate, Tennessee received a grade of 77. Compare that to the 2018 rankings, and we’re at a 70.8. We’ve gone from a solid C and closing in on a B to a C- nearing a D. Back in 2011, Tennessee was ranked 23rd in the nation in education climate. Today, we’re ranked 37th.

Another example of why it’s important to look at long term results is Rocketship Nashville. Coming on the heels of one Rocketship school closing is news that the IRS has filed a tax lien on the school. I don’t share this story to add fuel to the charter school debate, but rather, as a cautionary tale about just paying attention to short term results. Rocketship founders had previously touted the great gains the school was making, but unfortunately those results have not held up this year.

Rocketship claims the lien is a result of misfiled paperwork, and it very well could be. My point is that we are so quick to celebrate short term results, we neglect to consider the long term implications. Running a school is hard, hard work. There will be years of great success and years where there are challenges. What makes it difficult is that there are students and families involved. Hopefully Rocketship rights its trajectory soon, for the sake of the families who have chosen to invest in its success. Equally important is that we all start to widen our lens when it comes to judging a school.

District 8 has a contender for the soon-to-be vacated school board seat currently held by Mary Pierce, who has chosen not to run for re-election. Gini Pupo-Walker announced her intentions to run this week. Pupo-Walker is a Nashville schools graduate, former Metro Nashville Public Schools educator, and she works at Conexion Americas as senior director of education programs and policy. Her two children were Metro Schools students.

Edward Arnold announced his intention to run for the District 2 seat currently held by JoAnn Brannon. Indications are that Brannon does not intend to run for re-election. Arnold is a retired State of Tennessee employee who worked in computer technical support. He also was an adjunct faculty member at Nashville State Technical Institute. He also served as an adult literacy instructor in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Calling all elementary and middle school students! Join Major League Baseball for a FREE event tomorrow at Cane Ridge HS. The half-day camp will give kids interested in baseball or softball a chance to focus on their skills while having fun! Register:

Belinda Furman is a Kentucky teacher. Read her thoughts on growing readers:

Allowing students to read for at least 20 minutes in class each day was always part of my reader’s workshop. The workshop model has four basic parts: the opening used to introduce the learning target, a mini-lesson of direct instruction, work time and share out. Using a reader’s workshop allowed me to explicitly model the reading strategies during my 10 to 15 minute mini-lesson and think aloud about the texts we were reading

The best part of reader’s workshop was always our “Share Square.” The Share Square was a time that all students would sit around the perimeter of the carpet to talk to their classmates about the books they had been reading and share their thinking about the texts. This was an opportunity for students to hear how their classmates understood the texts they were reading, make connections between texts and discover new books they might like to read themselves.

If only…

Former Gaslight Anthem singer Brian Fallon has a new record out today and it’s damn good.

Just finished a book by Belgian author Paul Colize, called Back Up. One of the most original works of fiction that I’ve read in a long time. It’s a fascinating mixture of conspiracy theory and cultural history centered around London and Western Europe in the early 60’s. Lots of Rock and Roll!

So, it would seem that the bookkeeper is the latest casualty over at Antioch HS. This comes on the heels of the wrestling coach leaving. How long can MNPS turn a blind eye?

POLL QUESTIONS

Time for some questions.

First question is about the district restructuring into quadrants. The year has progressed enough that we should be able to offer an evaluation. So what do you think?

Question two is going require you to do a little required close reading. Read the proposed MOU for teachers and let me know your thoughts. If you are not a teacher, but work for the district, read the SEIU MOU and tell me your thoughts. Both are at the very bottom of the agenda, so you’ll have to scroll through some things.

Last question. After a week of revelations, what’s your take on Nashville’s mayor? To quote The Clash, should she stay or should she go? I’m asking you.

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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. The Facebook page is where you can see a lot of great things happening in MNPS.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

A PUSH FOR EXPANDING RESTORATIVE JUSTICE IN MNPS

I hope everybody enjoyed their Super Bowl festivities yesterday. The NFL did not have a very good season this year, but I think yesterday’s game redeemed the season. It was wall-to-wall action with seldom a dull moment. My MVP award would go to Eagles coach Doug Pederson. He made it clear right from the beginning of the game that he intended to win and would settle for nothing less. He wasn’t going to play it safe and planned to make calculated risks in order to put his team in the best position to win.

Much has been made of Pederson’s attempted 2-point conversions, but for me the real gamble came late in the fourth quarter when the Eagles had fourth and 1 at the 46. Eagles were trailing by 1 with under 6 minutes left. Conventional wisdom would have called for a punt, pinning the Patriots deep in their own territory. If you go for the first and don’t make it, the Patriots would be in a great position to increase the lead. QB Foles hit TE Ertz for just enough for the first down and Eagles went on to win it. As the proverb says, “Fortune favors the bold.”

Any chance of a Patriot comeback was squelched by a fumble recovery made by Eagle rookie Derek Barnett. Many people remember Barnett as a player for the University of Tennessee. But for the Tusculum Elementary School community, the connection goes back a little further. Today Tusculum ES students have a former student to look towards as an example that anything is possible when you work hard and dream big.

MONEY FOR RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

Over the last couple weeks, Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH), a faith-based coalition of 62 churches that works on housing, criminal justice, and job issues, has begun calling for increased resources to be included in the upcoming school budget to expand restorative justice practices.

“We must ensure full support of social emotional learning and positive discipline practices in MNPS because these practices have been proven to work in stopping the school to prison pipeline,” said Dawana Wade of NOAH’s School Discipline Subcommittee.

In an article published in the Tennessee Tribune, a Black American weekly newspaper, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph voiced agreement with NOAH’s stance:

“We need teacher training in a number of areas. We are looking at cultural awareness training to pick up implicit bias, training to help teachers understand how they can build stronger relationships with kids, helping teachers think about how they can help students resolve conflicts.”

He goes on to indicate that how much the district expands the discipline practice is dependent on the budgetary resources they receive. The budget is currently being prepared, and at this time he says it calls for 24 new positions for 42 schools that currently utilize restorative practices. Currently, 17 schools have a restorative specialist. These specialists have their own standalone offices and offer designated spaces in which to utilize restorative practices.

I am very pleased to see someone drawing increased focus to our discipline policies. It is obvious to anyone who gives even a cursory look that this is an area that needs more resources. Metro schools are allowed the option of choosing one of three discipline models: Restorative Practices, Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS), or Social Emotional Learning (SEL). Forty-five Metro schools have adopted SEL, 45 Restorative Practices, and 35 have adopted PBIS.

I’m very interested in knowing which schools utilize which practices and how that matches up with their demographics. The article in the Tribune cites positive results with SEL at Fall-Hamilton Elementary School. Office referrals were reduced by 87 percent last year. Students in grades 4-6 improved English scores by 7 percent and Math scores by 9 percent. But is this causation or correlation? I don’t know.

As stated before, I support the concepts of restorative practices, but my experience shows me the shortcomings of the program when not fully implemented. We had an incident involving my daughter this past year where another student violated her personal boundaries in a very troubling manner. I don’t want to go too much into detail out of respect for the other student, my daughter, and school leadership, but the child should have been removed. That is no knock against school leadership, because they were fantastic and handled things the best they could with the existing parameters. However, that child is still in school and on occasion still has contact with my daughter.

Luckily, she is a mature young lady and comes to us or her teachers when she is made to feel uncomfortable. Because of the support she gets at home and through her teachers,  her trauma is mitigated. But that doesn’t hold true for every child. There has to be a balance struck between the needs and rights of the misbehaving student and that of the student who is not misbehaving. Everybody acknowledges that fact in theory, but it’s often lost in practice.

It could very well be a training and staffing issue, but if we are talking the kind of money – several million dollars – I think we are, the devil is going to be in the details. Parents want to know that their children are going to be safe when they send them to school. Most are concerned for all kids, but first they need to be reassured that their kids are going to be safe. My recommendation is that in asking for additional forces, proponents spend as much time telling parents how the rights of their children will be protected, as well as those who commit the infractions.

While we are talking about social emotional learning, can anybody tell me why the district isn’t working with Jarred Amato to create a secondary Scope and Sequence that would utilize the tenets of ProjectLit? I’m not a teacher, and I don’t play one on TV, but for the life of me, I don’t see a reason why units incorporating ProjectLit books couldn’t be created that function like the IFL units. Amato has relationships with publishers and authors that could mitigate costs and provide life-altering experiences for students. Schools could decide whether to use the ProjectLit plan or the IFL plan. As previously noted, schools are already given a choice when it comes to discipline, so why not literacy? Especially a literacy plan that would incorporate elements of which ever discipline plan a school choses.

ENCORE EXPANSION

Encore is the MNPS’s gifted and talented education program. The key words here are gifted and talented. Gifted and talented kids are not just really smart kids. They are students who have a brain process that functions in a different manner than most children. That brain process often results in higher academic performance, but not always. That’s a distinction that often gets lost.

In previous years, students were primarily identified for the screening process by either parents or a teacher advocating for them to get tested. Predictably, that resulted in demographics that were primarily white and/or of higher economic standards. According to a Nashville Scene article from 2016 written by Amanda Haggard, 70% of the students in Encore were white. Black students made up only 16%, and Hispanic students made up 6%. That is a little appalling. Disclaimer here, my children are among the 70% and have benefited greatly from it.

The district recognizes that disparity and has begun to take steps to increase equity in access. I’m going to put a disclaimer here, though – increased access does not mean reduced criteria. Again, gifted and “really smart” are completely different students and that cannot be said enough. At this point, there has been no evidence that the district is reducing criteria, but constant vigilance is required.

One of the first steps MNPS undertook in increasing equity was the expanding of the number of exceptional education teachers available to schools and the number of hours those teachers are available. Each school now gets one Advanced Academics Resource Teachers (AARTs) who specialize in gifted and talented education for two-and-a-half days a week. At Tusculum ES, we have been blessed by the presence of Dr. Paula Pendergrass, or Dr. P, as the kids call her, who has made a huge difference.

In October, for the first time, all second graders in MNPS were given the universal screener to test for gifted ability. The screener the district currently uses is the The Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT), a nonverbal measure of general ability. This spring the district will move to utilizing a multiple screener process. Which screeners will be included is being discussed. Parents can expect to receive their child’s score in the mail over the next couple of weeks. Early indications are that we should see an uptick in the number of Black and Hispanic students identified.

Students who are already receiving Encore services but are not identified as still being gifted by the Fall’s testing will still receive Encore services. It’s long been district policy that ending a child’s services causes unnecessary trauma. I’m sure there are plenty of parents grateful for that news.

These are very positive steps and MNPS deserves credit for taking them. I do have some further questions and I’ve submitted those to the district. I am curious about the actual numbers and breakdown of Encore students. I am curious about the steps we’ve taken to make the program more accessible to our English Language Learners. Just because you are not fluent in English does not mean you are not gifted. When I get that information, I will share, but I am very hopeful about the direction our exceptional education services is trending.

QUICK HITS

This week is National School Counseling week. Have you hugged your school counselor today?

United Way of Metropolitan Nashville is offering free tax assistance to eligible Metro Schools employees and families starting today! To learn more, visit http://bit.ly/2FRZoGY

Are you looking for a job with Metro Schools? They’re hosting a Spring 2018 Teacher and Support Recruitment Fair on Saturday, February 17. Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of the fastest-growing urban district filled with opportunities to effect change daily. The deadline to register for the event is February 12: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm

All eighth graders who will attend MNPS high schools are eligible to apply for School Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). Deadline is February 16! More info here: .

Blogger Russ on Reading has been writing a series of articles on when readers struggle. His latest installment is on comprehension. Everybody who is concerned with literacy should read this series.

If you enjoyed Justin Timberlake’s halftime show, check out his latest.

I just finished James Lee Burke’s latest, Robicheaux, A Novel. The man is an American Treasure. This book really dives into the role sex, violence, class, and history play in defining who we are as individuals.

POLL RESULTS

Awesome results to this week’s poll questions. Thank you to all who responded. Let’s look at the results.

The first question related to what’s on everyone’s mind in Nashville: what is your reaction to the Mayor’s affair? It seems that DGW readers are a pretty open-minded bunch. Twenty-nine percent indicated that as long as there were no financial shenanigans, you were good. The number 2 answer was that you were deeply disappointed but hoped she stayed in office. However, twenty-five percent of you gave answers that seemed to indicate that you thought she should resign.

Betsy Phillips, who writes for the Nashville Scene, has an article that I think comes the closest to summing up the situation for me. She calls for the need to separate the sex from the scandal:

I don’t begin to understand what the compassion I’m supposed to feel for Barry is. Am I supposed to believe it’s just too bad that she has utterly normal desires and the ability to act on them? What does it say about our views of women’s sexuality that our first instinct when we discover a woman is having even more sex than we expect her to is to pity her? To feel sorry for her?

I feel sorry for the two people who may have discovered they were in open marriages the hard way. That really sucks.

But Megan Barry has even more sex with the kind of guy she likes? That’s not a tragedy. It might be a dick move, but it’s not a tragedy. That’s not how sex works. It doesn’t ruin women.

Phillips points out the fallacy of those who argue that this isn’t a #METOO moment:

But when Barry insists this isn’t a #MeToo moment, she’s wrong. The mayor certainly has final say over who makes up her security detail. And she certainly has control of the amount of overtime that security detail works. Having the power to decide who gets to do a job and having control over how much overtime he’ll be needed for can easily be coercive.

She then goes on to conclude:

Can the mayor run the city effectively if the people surrounding her believe that she plays favorites? Can the mayor run the city effectively if she has a weird relationship with the police department? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I know they’re more important questions for the city to be dwelling on than whether we ought to forgive Megan Barry.

It’s not our job to forgive her personal foibles. It’s our job to evaluate her ability to effectively lead our city.

I encourage you to read the whole article. Here are the write-in votes:

Another politician who forgot character matters and forgot she is a role model. 1
Terrible. Wasn’t she an ethics officer previously? SMH 1
She needs to step down 1
Resign 1
Terribly disappointed 1
MNEA endorsed her and I voted with my Union. Major disappointment.

Question 2 was in regards to establishing meeting norms. Twenty-nine percent of you recognized their usefulness in certain situations. Seventeen percent of you would prefer to just get down to business, and sixteen percent of you hate them. There was only one write in answer:

I agree they are passive-aggressive and controlling.

Looking at the recently released “cusp” and “priority” school list recently published in the Tennessean, I wanted to know your opinion for the final poll question. No matter how you feel about the state and its testing policies, the top three answers should be a concern to anyone who cares about Nashville’s public education system,

Not surprised. 26 26%  
It’s kinda indicative of where we are. 19 19%  
Probably going to get worse. 17 17%

Here are the write-in votes:

Labeling schools by scores from an invalid test…only hurts children 1
There will always be a bottom 5%! 1
Not useful – poor schools score worse 1
Fire Dr. Felder and it will get better 1
I think these lists are ridiculous! 1
These are the same schools that struggle. When will we address their struggles? 1
The state needs to get over this crap and let us teach.

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized

NASHVILLE ROCKED

My, my, my, but this has been a long week. I compose each post in my head throughout the week. This week, I composed and threw out several different potential posts. This is where I am today.

NASHVILLE’S MAYOR

The big news this week is the ongoing story of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry’s affair with her bodyguard. I’ve been slow to comment on this because I consider Megan a friend, and if she called me tomorrow I’d come mow her lawn, but I think in this case you have to separate the personal figure from the public figure.

I have no patience for those who are walking around saying, “I don’t judge” or “Don’t judge lest you be judged.” Let’s be adults. We all judge. We make 1,000 judgements everyday. We can judge with compassion. We can judge with reservations. We can change our judgements. But we all judge. We wouldn’t survive as a species if we didn’t do so. But we also have the ability to share empathy and forgiveness, and that needs to be a centerpiece of any judgements made today.

Facts are still coming to light, so it’s hard to stake out a concrete position. I’m a big believer that as new facts emerge, you apply them to your judgement, and if necessary, you change your opinion. There is no doubt that there will be a lot of that going on over the next several months in Nashville.

Where I’ve landed, after long consideration, is the position that it’s not the infidelity that bothers me, but rather the fact that it was a 2-year long relationship. That is 2 years of deception. At some point the question has to arise, where do truth and deception diverge? Or have the two become so intermingled that at this point it’s impossible to tell what’s true and what is not? I think that is a valid question to ask of a public figure while still offering compassion and support for the private.

If you haven’t watched David Letterman’s interview with Barack Obama, there is a scene where the former president admits that Michelle got it first. The job is about more than creating policy and passing legislation. Anybody can do that. It’s about setting tone. The tone in the country now is toxic and we need true leaders more than ever.

Donald Trump is not who I voted for. I have no control over how he conducts himself. But I can exercise a modicum of control over the conduct of the people whom I do choose to represent me. As Democrats, and I guess that is where I fall these days, we have to demand a higher bar for our representatives or we lose all credibility. Simply saying you are sorry is not the same as accepting accountability. Accountability means accepting the consequences of your actions. It is often painful but necessary. As someone who ran with a platform in which ethics was a major plank, nobody should know that better than Megan Barry.

As always, my main concerns center around the question of what this means for Metro Nashville Public Schools and particularly its budget. Currently there is speculation on what the Mayor’s troubles mean for her primary initiative, transportation. Several people, over the last couple days, voiced to me that it is dead. There is nothing like the perception of misused public funds to bring out the fiscal hawks and their sharpened talons.

It’s no secret that Director of Schools Shawn Joseph is looking for a bigger budget this year. Barry was laying the groundwork for that ask over the last 4 months. Every time they would appear together in a public forum, she would always joke that Joseph was constantly reminding her of the school district’s need for more funding. In that light, if in April when Joseph makes his ask for what I believe will be a budget north of a billion dollars, it could be pointed out that everyone had received ample warning and Barry’s endorsement would come without question.

You may be skeptical that the ask will be that high. I predicted that it would be last year and I was wrong. But if you look around at the demands, you start to see where that number comes from. NOAH has already demanded, rightly so, for increased funding for restorative justice practices. The recently undertaken STEAM initiative still requires increased funding. There is a pending MOU between teachers and the district that reportedly includes a call for a 5% raise for teachers. Para-pros need more money. Our EL department has been functioning on a basically, save for mandated investments, frozen budget for the last 2 years. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Barry could have carried this budget across the finish line. If she survives, there is a question of whether or not she still has that ability. I don’t know. I asked several people, who, besides the mayor, has Joseph built a relationship with that could possibly carry this budget. The unanimous answer was no one.

That, in a nut shell, and I’ll talk about it more later, is the Achilles heel of this administration in MNPS. They fail to grasp that it’s all about relationships. In order to be successful, you have to build relationships. There is no program, no consultants, no administrator, that can overcome a lack of quality relationships. Barry is a prime example of that. If she survives this crisis, it will not be because she is the smartest person in the room. It will be because of the relationship building that she has heavily invested in over the last 20 years. If she doesn’t, then it’s Shawn Joseph who will bear some of the blame if teachers and students don’t receive the resources they need.

TEACHER VOICE

So I just mentioned relationship building. This week I witnessed another missed opportunity for that to happen. The last of the latest teacher voice sessions was held at Tusculum ES, and I attended.

The purported purpose of these sessions is for Dr. Joseph to find out what’s on teacher’s minds. This session, for the SW quadrant, was held at 4:30 PM, and when it began there were perhaps 50 people in the room. Of those 50 people, I would say 25 were administrators or principals. Of the remaining 25, about 10 were Tusculum teachers. To be fair, about 15 more teachers showed up as the meeting progressed. Still, not a great sample size.

The meeting opened, as I’m told, in the manner of all MNPS meetings with the reading of the Meeting Norms. I’ll go on record here, I HATE THE CONCEPT OF MEETING NORMS. If I’m meeting with adults, why do I have to establish rules of conduct? If I have even a precursory relationship with the people in the room, why do I have to instruct them on how to behave? Can I not just trust them to behave in a professional manner, and if they don’t, can I not just address the issue then?

I get it if it’s a formal meeting and I’m trying to provide specific instruction and we’ve never met before. But when I’m seeking opinions, I find it to be a passive-aggressive technique meant as a means to establish control. If I want to know what you are thinking, and I want to establish a relationship with you, I extend the hand of trust and I ask you. How you present that information to me should be in a form that you are comfortable with. The meeting should not start with instructions on how to box up your opinion.

Moving on from the meeting norms, it was announced that two questions would be posed for discussion. The first was, what’s working in MNPS for you? The second, in this budget season, what would you like to make your job easier?

I thought, damn! I’m going to try this the next time my wife and I have a disagreement. I’ll just ask her what’s working for her in the marriage and what can I buy her to make life easier. Easy peasy! And then we won’t have to discuss the issues. Just move along.

Some of the things mentioned that were working were site-based planning, the 2-hour delay, STEAM training on campus, Dr. Sheaffer, and increased weight on homework completion. The wish list items mentioned were extra money, smaller classes, and actually supplying texts connected to the scope and sequence. What was never talked about was culture, teacher attrition, and any in-depth analysis of the literacy plan. In other words, another box was checked off. Another opportunity was missed.

You cannot fix culture without trust. And anybody who tells you that trust exists in MNPS… shouldn’t be trusted. At some point we have to have real and honest conversation that makes people a little uncomfortable. Maybe if people were a little uncomfortable they would do something, other than just hold more meetings, to fix the problems at Antioch HS. Maybe if somebody was a little uncomfortable, we’d develop a quality literacy program. Maybe if someone was a little uncomfortable, we wouldn’t be relying on computer platforms to teach our children. I don’t know about you, but I’ve seldom done my best work when comfortable, and some of my best friends are those who have gone through uncomfortable times with me.

QUICK HITS

This morning I attended ProjectLit’s monthly book club. This month was extra special in that it was attended by the author of Dear Martin, Nic Stone. Over the last month, Stone had been communicating with the students as they read her book. Before the meeting, students and guests had a chance to talk with the author and a few students read notes and poems they had written for her. Especially poignant was when one female student revealed that she’d never thought it was possible to have a relationship with your favorite author. She went on to say that she aspired to be a short story author and that her relationship with Stone led her to believe that such a feat was a possibility. I’ll admit, I teared up a bit.

This morning was a summation of why people get into education. To see students’ eyes and minds awaken to the possibilities the world has to offer. They don’t get into education so they can lead children to score well on a test or read at a certain grade level. But there are young teachers who believe that the ultimate reward is a test score or a growth gain. That is wrong and evidence that the wrong message is being sent. That has to stop. The magic of today should never be sacrificed in order to hit a KPI. These are students, not widgets to be measured and standardized.

It was announced this week that one of the three Achievement School District schools operating in Nashville will be closing at the end of the year. Rocketship Academy will be closing Partners Community Prep, a school that served grades K-2. The reason given is gross under-enrollment. This should be just one more nail in the coffin of the ASD. Whether it was started with the best intentions or not, at this point there is ample evidence present to classify the experiment as an abysmal failure. Legislators should do the right thing and disband the ASD. On the flip side, if you are one of those folks taking pleasure in Rocketship’s demise, I would ask the following question: what district school suddenly got better because Rocketship closed?

I feel the need to reiterate one more time. Charter schools are a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. There is no doubt that they engage in aggressive marketing techniques. But no parent whose child was enrolled in a school where the student felt safe and was fully engaged, and the parents felt welcome and included, received a flyer and said, “Hey, let’s go check out that school we really know nothing about.” The focus has to remain on making schools better and enriching student experience. Pointing fingers at people accomplishes nothing.

It was confirmed this week by MNPS that former Buena Vista ES Principal Dr. McVickers was out on administrative leave and that there was an open investigation pertaining to a performance-related matter. I have no idea what that means. McVickers is very well-respected, but does have a reputation of sometimes rubbing people wrong due to the depth of her knowledge. I’ll keep an eye on this one.

At the beginning of the year, Antioch HS and several other high schools, were unable to fill all of their teaching positions. Math teachers have become particularly scarce. As a solution to the problem, the district signed a contract with Edgenuity. Edgenuity is a virtual school with a checkered reputation. If I go online and Google Edgenuity answers, I find a plethora of websites that offer answers for the site’s tests. Last week I received an email from a parent looking for clarity, and so I began a little investigating. I sent an email to the district asking for the number of students enrolled with Edgenuity. The response was, “I’ll check with the coordinator of this program, but I know she’s a 120-day employee, so she may not be immediately available.” I hope the irony isn’t lost on you. It’s certainly not on me.

Are you looking for a job with Metro Schools? They’re hosting a Spring 2018 Teacher and Support Recruitment Fair on Saturday, February 17. Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of the fastest-growing urban district (their words, not mine) filled with opportunities to effect change daily. The deadline to register for the event is February 12: http://bit.ly/2Gv3Mfm

Love the chart to the left. So much that needs to be reiterated.

Oliver Middle School’s robotics team competed in its first competition this past week. In their first alliance match, they scored 11 points.

If you are an educator or a parent looking for a book on Reading Strategies, check out Jennifer Serravello’s book called Reading Strategies.

On Sunday, Justin Timberlake plays the Super Bowl. It’s no surprise that this week he has a new record.

The CMA is looking for a few good teachers to recognize. They are looking for 10 music teachers of excellence. There is a cash prize involved. If you know a music teacher, make sure they apply.

Sharon Griffin started her career as a classroom teacher in Memphis. She now leads Shelby County Schools. Despite being in charge, Ms. Griffin has not forgotten her classroom experiences. In a recent article in Chalkbeat she goes on record, saying, “The successes of our schools really depends on everybody, and particular those of us at central office, moving in the direction of supporting schools,” she said. “We would not exist if it weren’t for schools.” Ms. Griffen’s mantra is “You either teach students or support those who do.” Preach on. Preach on.

The Gerst Haus, a Nashville restaurant that’s been serving up German fare for more than 60 years, will serve its final meal next weekend. Man, the good ones are all falling.

POLL QUESTIONS

This week we have lots of material from which to draw inspiration.

First question hopes to get your opinion on the recent revelations about Mayor Megan Barry. Upon hearing the news, what was your reaction?

For my next question, I’d like to ask about meeting norms. Do you like them, hate them as much as me, or are somewhere in the middle?

Last question, the Tennessean this week ran an article listing the MNPS schools that were on both the “cusp” list and the “priority” list. How much does the increase in the number of schools on these lists concern you?

Posted in Uncategorized

LESSONS ABOUND

I watched Sunday’s Grammy Award ceremonies. While I’m not as familiar with the top acts as I once may have been, I still enjoy the music, the pomp, and the pageantry. I found it notable that two of this year’s most powerful performances came from the artists Kesha and Miley Cyrus. Watching Cyrus, wearing a stunning red gown, perform with Elton John made me flash back to five years ago when she faced a barrage of criticism for her behavior on and off the stage. Large swaths of the public were willing to write her off as being immoral and creating art devoid of value. Similar criticism was leveled at Kesha in response to her huge club hits that topped the mainstream charts. Last night those same young ladies produced performances that will stand the test time. Performances that would not have possible without their previous experiences.

There is a learning opportunity for educators and parents here if we choose to take it. We constantly make judgements on people, but especially children, based on snapshots of their lives. We allow test scores, grades, and yes, even behavioral issues to define a child instead of just defining where they are at that moment. Kesha and Miley couldn’t have produced the performances they did last night without the shortcomings of their past. I believe it’s essential that schools don’t just focus on achievement but also on nurturing. Kids have to be given room to make mistakes, come up short, and feel comfortable taking risks in an environment that offers protection and nurturing. Those are the things that make you not just college and career ready, but life ready.

Reading, writing, and arithmetic are certainly important skills to develop, but equally important are recovery and self-evaluation. You can be the greatest reader in the world, but life is still going to offer you setbacks, and you are still going to, on occasion, make poor decisions. Without the ability to self examine and recover, mistakes in the real world can be devastating. I’d like us to look at Miley Cyrus and Kesha’s performances last night and use them as reminders that we can’t just focus on achievement. Unlocking the potential is equally as important.

MORE ON RESTORATIVE JUSTICE AND SEL

In my mind, one of the most troubling trends in our society is our growing inability to admit when we might be wrong. In that spirit, I’d like to revisit the statement I made in last week’s blog post on restorative justice practices. I stated that the policies had been reduced to a message of “Don’t suspend black or brown kids.” After talking to several educators, I realize I might have cast too narrow a net. The message has been translated more to “don’t suspend ANY child” than just children of color. Unfortunately there is a disparate number of black and brown kids who get suspended, and therefore the mistaken translation. I regret any contribution I may have made to reinforcing that interpretation, though I still believe there are times when a child might need to be removed from a classroom.

Along related lines, Social Emotional Learning has grown larger and larger as a component of a school’s curriculum. One of my favorite education bloggers, Peter Greene, wrote a piece last week questioning whether SEL belonged in schools or not. His views are closely aligned with mine on this issue.

There are a lot of benefits to helping kids become better people and deal with issues in a more appropriate manner. The problem is who gets to decide what’s appropriate? If we are creating individuals who are are less likely to question things and speak out, that may be benefit for business, but is it a benefit for society? Some might say yes, but not I. Going back to my opening example, some may say Miley and Kesha have learned how to behave better and therefore they have more power to incite social change. I might argue that their behavior modification prevents them from expanding boundaries, which is bad for society, because we always need those willing to live on the fringes. The truth is, it is probably a mix of both and that’s what we often fail to grasp.

I suggest reading the entirety of Greene’s piece, but for me the money shot is near the conclusion:

SEL at its worst is about emotionally engineering humans. It’s about imposing someone else’s values on a vulnerable human being, essentially stripping that human of their autonomy and will. And worse, from re-education camps to certain cults, we know that it can be done. Because the power and wealth attached to such a massive endeavor are so great, the entire business is guaranteed to be warped and twisted by those who stand to profit. At its worst, we are talking about crafting human beings to order and harvesting both them and their data in the service of those with power. We are talking about pushing them to be the people who someone else thinks they should be. This is not just bad policy, inappropriate pedagogy, or culturally toxic– this is evil.

The last thing I want to share on the topic of restorative justice practices/SEL comes from a reader. I sometimes get comments from readers that are just to good to leave relegated to the comment section.

This weekend’s post produced one such comment:

With respect to restorative here is my diagnosis. The Joseph team came in seeking the actions with best bang per buck. They have (intentionally or not) underfunded restorative efforts to be able to fund STEAM. Although more schools have shifted to restorative, schools can still largely choose their model for SEL work and some choose a PB (positive behavior) and might include carrots (reward tickets) and sticks, instead of restorative. Schools haven’t been told to get all teachers trained in restorative if they are following that model, and the training and support office has been underfunded, plus schools wishing to get all teachers trained might not have been able to do so due to having to attend STEAM days.

Schools that are in year 2 or 3 of restorative even find that there is a small segment of (usually ACE-impacted: adverse childhood experiences) students that don’t respond to restorative no matter what. They end up having to use some version of PB or other approach with that most challenging group (say 5% of students) that drives perhaps 50% of the classroom disruptions. You should interview the principal of Fall Hamilton on the incredible work done there using a grant to fund a truly trained social worker type of position to restore but also putting in place various checks and balances via PB for his most challenged students. This case study shows what everyone probably needs to do, and funding it would be a challenge. I can name other schools that also have funded support positions out of their flexible spending which has been a major challenge, but my other examples do not include an explicit PB piece that is systematized for the most challenging cases. These other schools are having difficulty employing restorative within the framework that Joseph has laid out.

The problem is NOT an edict to suspend less black and brown kids. The problem is the edict to suspend less kids. If mostly black and brown kids are who is getting suspended, though, then the effect is similar. Considerably more thought and resources and time need to go into unwinding the disruptive behavior cycle. We could have the ability to rise to that, but our current SEL paradigm isn’t allowing for real counseling to occur. I’d like to see more thought put into this because there’s no easy recipe that will work everywhere all the time.

Ok, I lied, I do have one more comment to make on discipline practices and SEL. If we are serious about curbing youth violence and increasing social emotional learning, why is the district not putting more focus on the ProjectLit book clubs? Two recent novels, Dear Martin and The Hate U Give, both have the issue of youth violence at the center of their themes. What better way to address these issues then through discussion of a literacy work that accurately reflects who kids are? What better way to promote literacy than by connecting it to real world applications? I learned a lot about the man I wanted to become through the books I read. We need to give all kids that same opportunity.

This weekend I watched All Eyes On Me, a movie about the life of Tupac Shakur. There is a scene where he is in the prison visiting room with his mother. Tupac is despondent over his life and where it’s headed. His mother is trying her best to reassure him, but nothing is working until finally she looks at him and says the following:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

Tupac raises his head and you can see him draw strength from the words. “Shakespeare,” he says, nodding. Literature is a powerful thing. That power needs to be demonstrated to kids so that it can be used as such for a lifetime. It’s not just about raising test scores so adults can check that box. We owe it to kids to help them unlock the power of literature and to use it to help understand and cope with the feelings they have inside. ProjectLit book clubs are the perfect vehicle for that unlocking. It’s like the cave story I shared from last week: how deep do we want to go into the cave?

QUICK HITS

There is an article in this morning’s Tennessean sure to produce pearl-clutching as it proclaims that More Nashville public schools rank in bottom 5 percent, according to state data. Apparently in addition to a priority school list, the state has a “cusp school” list. Nashville has 21 schools on this cusp list. While not downplaying the seriousness of the issue, I can’t help but question the timing. Per the article, “The Tennessee Department of Education Cusp list, obtained by the USA TODAY NETWORK — Tennessee, was released to school districts in October to help flag academic issues ahead of the state’s official Priority list.” That was four months ago with TN Ready testing looking to begin in 2 months. So what’s the benefit of sounding the alarm now?

One thing I will say is that hopefully this serves as a reminder to district leadership of the importance of TNReady. Over this school year, there has been a keen focus on MAP testing. At last week’s MNPS school board meeting, Executive Director of Research, Assessment, and Evaluation Paul Changas gave assurances that there was a close alignment between MAP scores and TNReady. I hope that is true because doing well on MAP and underperforming on TNReady won’t be good for anybody. If I was the kind of person that believed in hidden messages, I might take this article as a thinly-veiled reminder of the potential consequences of underperforming on TNReady.

Speaking of the Tennessean, can anyone explain to me why, despite being a subscriber, I have to constantly battle pop-up ads and embedded video just to read an article?

Opportunity NOW, a youth employment initiative launched by Mayor Megan Barry, is now accepting applications for summer jobs and internships. The initiative links thousands of youth and young adults to paid job opportunities with the goal of embedding youth employment into the fabric of our community. This year more than 10,000 jobs will be available for young people in Nashville ages 14-24 through Opportunity NOW’s online job portal.

This has nothing to do with education but I still want to share. Owner Story: “My neighbor walks her guinea pig with her two other dogs. Yes, it follows her when she whistles…”

McKissack Middle Prep received a generous donation of books from News Channel 5 last week for their Girls Inc. & AMEND programs! Rockin like Dokken.

I keep an eye on what’s happening in other states as a way to be prepared for what might possibly wash up on our shores. There is a lot going on in Colorado, positive and negative, that we can learn from. On the positive side, I love this concept of science education.

Indianapolis is starting to play around with the idea of giving more autonomy to principals. This is an idea Nashville has toyed with, but as of late we’ve begun to pull back on. Last year, principals were allocated more money than before, but they were given more mandates on how to use their individual school budgets. As we head into budget season, I’m interested to see how things play out this year. The rumblings I’ve heard to date don’t indicate a relaxing of control by central office.

Nashville will have a new elementary school next year, and now that school has a principal. Metro Nashville Public Schools announced Mr. Shawn Lawrence as the first principal of the district’s newest school, Eagle View Elementary School. The elementary school will serve the Cane Ridge Community with a capacity for 800 students. Mr. Lawrence was previously the Principal at Apollo Middle School. Before that, he was at Neeley’s Bend Middle. He is a recognized turnaround specialist. So I have to ask… why is a turnaround specialist for middle schools the perfect fit for a new elementary school? Is middle school no longer a high need for MNPS, and if it is, why are we moving proven MS leadership to the ES level? Just the kind of stuff that goes through my head.

Unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives. When faced with personal ineffectiveness or lagging organizational performance, most of us instinctively look for quick-fix behavioral band-aids, not recognizing the underlying mindset at the heart of our most persistent challenges. Through true stories and simple yet profound guidance and tools, The Outward Mindset enables individuals and organizations to make the one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset. I plan to put this book on my list.

POLL RESULTS

Very interesting results to this week’s poll questions.

On the question of where MNPS teachers live, suprisingly to me, the majority (65%) of you still live in Davidson County. I figured the high cost of living had chased you all out. The runner up, with 12%, was Williamson County, which is more expensive to live in than Davidson County. Only 4% of you indicated that you live in the area where your school is zoned for, which I think is a shame. There weren’t any write-ins for this question.

Here’s where things got really interesting for me. For the second question, on the number of years working in education, the majority of you have put in over 10 years. Yikes! I can’t tell you what an honor it is to have educators with that much experience as readers. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Nobody spots bullshit like a veteran teacher, and to have that many of you as readers speaks volumes.

Here are the write-ins:

20+ 2
30+ 1
More than 25 years 1
33 1
20 plus 1
35 years 1
24 1
25+ years 1
21 years 1
45

The last question referenced the indictment of former Superintendent of Baltimore Schools Dallas Dance. Many of you were not aware of either who Dance was or why I was referencing him. Dance is a close friend of Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and was appointed a member of Joseph’s transition team. We provided travel and hotel expenses for him to come here and aid in Dr. Joseph’s transition to MNPS. Many of the companies that Dance interacted with are also active in MNPS. It’s all worth keeping an eye on.

Thirty-six percent of you responded that “you were judged by the company you keep,” with an additional 22% indicating that you were bothered by the association. Only 2% of you indicated that you didn’t care. I’m coming to believe that Dr. Felder and Cumberland Principal Carolyn Cobb have made a Sunday habit of reading Dad Gone Wild. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Here are the write-ins:

Not shocked one bit. 1
Monique Felder is right behind him 1
What about the new Eagle View principal? 1
Has anyone looked at MNPS’ non-bid contracts (tech & PD consultants) 1
who cares about Dallas. Fire Monique- the one doing damage to our district

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized

A CRITICAL SITUATION

This week, WKRN ran a story by reporter Stephanie Langford on the number of MNPS students who have lost their lives in the past year. According to her report, 36 kids died in the 2016-2017 school year. That’s the highest number in over a decade. In the middle of the week, the community group Nashville Organized for Action and Hope (NOAH) asked for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and the school board to set aside funds to train and support teachers in reducing punitive discipline practices that greatly impact minority students. At this week’s school board meeting, Dr. Tina Stenson presented data on the just-completed districtwide climate survey. In explaining how survey questions were selected, she explained that the ones for teachers were taken from focus groups conducted by the district. In those focus groups, teachers’ main expressed concerns were with leadership relationships and safety/discipline.

I think it’s safe to say that the Nashville community is starting to awaken to the fact that we have reached critical mass when it comes to child safety. The question then becomes what are we going to do about it? I tend to agree with Dr. Tony Majors, Executive Officer of Student Services for MNPS, when he states:

“I don’t want to believe that we are at the point where a child has conflict and immediately chooses to access a gun, but if that’s the case, then the question would be how are we addressing the accessibility of illegal weapons in our community as well. That’s not a schools systems conversation, but it is a conversation that the school system should definitely be involved in because we are seeing some of the impacts.”

The solution to this issue can not be solely school-based. We have to ask ourselves what we are going to do as a city to curb this trend. Part of the issue stems from Nashville’s rapid growth over the last decade. As we’ve focused on convention centers, sports team, stadiums, and attracting businesses, we’ve become less focused on things like community centers, libraries, and transportation. Those on the lower end of the economic chain have become more and more marginalized. That’s one of the reasons why groups like NOAH have risen to the forefront.

In all fairness, we are fortunate at this point to have a mayor who understands this need. And I mean no disrespect to previous mayors in praising Nashville’s current mayor. As Mayor, Megan Barry has met often with NOAH. She’s created a summer jobs program, Opportunity Now, that this year will make over 10,000 jobs available to kids aged 14-18. She’s making a valiant attempt at solving transportation woes which will improve the quality of life and open opportunities for all of us. She gets it. But we all need to get it.

Over the past several years, MNPS has moved towards the implementation of Restorative Justice as a primary pillar in its discipline policy. That’s the pillar that NOAH would like to see widened.

Here’s where I might make some people mad, but in the interest of having a wider and more honest conversation, I’m willing to walk out on that ledge. Restorative Justice has not been successful on a large scale in our schools. Somehow it has been translated into the message of don’t suspend black or brown kids. I know, some will bristle at this insinuation, but talk to teachers and principals and you’ll find that tenet has some veracity. For some students, that translates into the perception of a lack of accountability. Some take advantage of it and exploit it for their own benefit, thereby creating an unsafe environment for other kids.

The majority of discipline issues come from a minority of kids. Yet we focus on the impact of that minority. Shouldn’t the kids not being disruptive deserve as much consideration as those causing the disruptions? I understand the need to fight to keep kids from falling through the cracks and fully support any method that will address their unique issues. However, teachers are not trained social workers and psychologists; they are trained educators. If we continue to try to force them into serving two masters simultaneously – a child’s academic needs and social emotional needs – we run the risk of them being successful at neither.

The idea of restorative justice is intended to give teachers more tools to help more students, and I believe if fully implemented in can have a game changing impact on kids. That said, I see two major obstacles on why restorative justice practices have not reached that potential in MNPS. The first reason is simple: it has never been fully funded and implemented. We have not, as a district, dedicated the resources and the personnel necessary to fully adopt restorative justice. In order to be successful, there has to be dedicated personnel in every school, extensive training, and a culture shift. That ain’t free. So NOAH is on the right track when they call on the district to dedicate more resources to restorative justice practices.

The second part is the need to erase the negative connotation of removing a kid from the classroom. Kids come to MNPS having experienced such trauma that sometimes that classroom is not the right place for them, both for their benefit and the other students. That’s why we have to have the hard conversation about what happens to a child when their removal is necessitated. Is there a dedicated space in the school? Does there need to be classes held at individual sites throughout the cluster where these students can attend and receive services until they can return back to their assigned school? What do required services look like and how do we ensure that students receive them? (I know, that’s already happening, but remember that need for an honest conversation.)

When a child’s suspension is necessitated, school administrators should be approached by district leadership in a supportive manner, not in an accusatory way. Each instance should be evaluated individually based on its unique circumstances. Once again, people are going to tell me that this is already happening and I would counter with this: then why is safety and discipline a leading concern of teachers as acknowledged by the district’s own researcher? This is too important a conversation to have thin skin. In the words of Bill, we must employ rigorous honesty.

There is a story that is told about a cave of truth. Some people heard of this cave and thought, “We need to check that out.” So they set off to find it. After a long and arduous trip, they finally located the cave. At the mouth of the cave was an old man who served as the guardian. They approached him and asked, “Is this the cave of truth?” “It is,” he replied. “May we enter?” asked the townsfolk. The guardian replied in the affirmative and asked them how far into the cave they would like to go. The townsfolk huddled together and after a brief conversation, turned to the guardian and responded, “We would like to enter and go just deep enough to say that we’ve been there.”

That’s been our approach over the last several years and it’s gotten us to where we are now. I’m not disparaging anybody’s work to date, but this isn’t a job for one person or even one school district. It’s a job for a whole city. We have to commit to keeping all of our children safe. As Tony Majors says in the WKRN story:

“I really do think we’ve reached a point in the city of Nashville where we have to really ask a tough question, and that tough question really centers around what type of life experience do we want for our children and what is it going to take to get our students involved in very positive proactive activities.”

QUICK HITS

Last week MNPS held its School Choice Festival. As a general rule, I’m not a supporter of a choice system. No matter how it is set up, it inadvertently leads to the creation of winners and losers, and those losers are typically those with the most to lose. What I am in support of, though, is an opportunity for parents to come together and learn more about MNPS and the schools that comprise it. In that light, it appears that the MNPS communications department delivered a much appreciated event. Congratulations to them.

Speaking of parents, I encourage you to check out the latest in the Dad Gone Wild interview series. This time out I talked with Nashville Rise’s Allison Simpson, a conversation that I really enjoyed and gave me a lot to think about. We need to constantly remind ourselves that those with different opinions aren’t our enemies, just people with different opinions than us.

Word on the street is that Eakin ES is once again on the hunt for a new principal.

On the subject of school choice, my friend Ezra Howard has recently resumed blogging and he has some views he’d like to share. I always find his views to be informative.

I would also like to acknowledge that in her presentation on the climate survey, Dr. Stenson chose to address “community concerns” that results were being used in any way other than formative. She wanted to make sure that people knew that results were not being utilized in a punitive manner. We appreciate the clarification and are appreciative that Dr. Stenson reads Dad Gone Wild.

Last week was the first Gubernatorial debate. This one focused on education. I could do a long wrap up on it, or I could just turn the mic over to Vesia Hawkins. Her summary about says it all.

One of the things being talked about during this year’s Tennessee Legislative session is a change in how schools are funded. As always, TNEd Report breaks down one aspect of the discussion for us.

Some of you may wonder why I haven’t written more about the recent resignation of MNPS central office employee Mo Carrasco. Truth is, I’m staying away from it because I don’t want his actions to undercut the discussion on his observations on the district. His actions were completely unacceptable, and thankfully he resigned, but there is a lot of truth in his evaluation of the district. Close observers and those employed by the district know the truth. For Dr. Joseph to insinuate that he and Carrasco were nothing but principals together in the same district is a bit disingenuous, and denies the long history the two have together that dates back to Joseph’s participation in Carrasco’s principal-training side business.

Speaking of friends, look what happened in Baltimore this week. Former Baltimore Superintendent and current MNPS Transition Team member Dallas Dance was indicted on 4 counts of perjuryIf you look about 3 paragraphs down in the linked article, you’ll see reference to a company called ERDI. Then take a look at MNPS’s Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder’s financial disclosure from last year, and you’ll see that she declares no outside compensation, but did do work for a company called Education Research & Development Institute. Hmmm….. move along. Nothing to see here. That was for 2016. 2017 is due at the end of the month.

Word on the street is that things got a little heated at a parent/district meeting last night at Sylvan Park ES. Last year, if you’ll remember, there was concern about high teacher turnover at the school. Earlier this year, I asked a parent if things were improving. “I don’t…” they responded, “I don’t know anybody anymore.” Last night’s meeting contained commentary on those recently departed teachers. Hmmmm…. that’s all, just hmmmm.

MNPS announced today one of its students, Youli Yao, who attends Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School, has been named a prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search Scholar. Youli Yao was Tennessee’s only semifinalist out of 300 nationally. Pretty impressive.

Unknowingly, too many of us operate from an inward mindset—a narrow-minded focus on self-centered goals and objectives. When faced with personal ineffectiveness or lagging organizational performance, most of us instinctively look for quick-fix behavioral band-aids, not recognizing the underlying mindset at the heart of our most persistent challenges. Through true stories and simple yet profound guidance and tools, The Outward Mindset enables individuals and organizations to make the one change that most dramatically improves performance, sparks collaboration, and accelerates innovation—a shift to an outward mindset. I plan to put this book on my list.

Listening to John Prine’s Sweet Revenge this morning. Since I frequently see him around town, I always forget just how good he is. Check it out.

POLLS

Time to put forth this week’s questions. The first one was brought forth by a reader and it concerns where MNPS teachers reside. It was in response to the question about snow days, but I do find it an interesting overall.

Next, I’d like to get a feel for how long teachers who read the blog have been teaching. So if you are an educator, I like to know for how long. And that includes principals.

Lastly, I want to ask for feedback on the Dallas Dance indictments. Does it bother you or not?

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short. I have started using Patreon. 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.

Posted in Uncategorized

A CONVERSATION WITH NASHVILLE RISE’S ALLISON SIMPSON

I decided to start doing interviews with people involved with education in Tennessee because I felt that in arguing over policy, we’d lost sight of personalities. Education is such a passionate subject that we often forget those we argue against are people who have arrived at their opinions based on their own research and experiences. We tend to think that our experience is a universal experience, and therefore policy should be shaped to fit that experience or a slight variation of it. What I’ve discovered through my conversations with folks over the last couple years is that everyone has a story and everyone’s story is different, sometimes to a degree that makes finding the touchstones difficult.

Allison Simpson is someone I never really thought I would be sitting down with, let alone enjoying our conversation. She is a parent leader with Nashville Rise, an organization that was initially a part of Project Renaissance. In my eyes, Simpson had a sympathy for charter schools that was the antithesis of my own beliefs. During the last school board election, we found ourselves on opposite ends of a very vitriolic battle. Since then, I’ve begun to focus less on fighting against schools and more on fighting for schools. I’ve realized you can’t impact demand if you don’t lessen desire.

Recently, Nashville Rise has broken off from Project Renaissance and formed its own independent 501(c)(3) organization. Those involved say that this has always been the plan, while those with other agendas paint a different picture. I am not as much concerned with the politics as much as I was with the story of those involved. Whether criticism leveled against them is warranted or not, there is no denying that Nashville Rise has been successful at getting previously unheard parents to step to the microphone at school board meetings. That itself is worthy of praise.

Allison and I sat down at Flatrock Coffee and Tea for a conversation on personal experiences, school choice, and parent involvement. We didn’t reach total agreement, but hopefully we uncovered a few mutual touchstones that will lay the grounds for future collaboration.

DAD GONE WILD: Good morning, Allison. Glad you were able to find the place all right. I appreciate you doing this.

ALLISON SIMPSON: My pleasure.

DGW: Now your official title is Chairman of the Board for Nashville Rise, correct?

AS: Correct.

DGW: Now what exactly, in your words, is Nashville Rise?

AS: We are a parent advocacy organization. Our main work is focusing on empowering parents to elevate their voices around improving our schools, thereby increasing great schools for all kids.

DGW: Let’s take a look at the history for a moment. Project Renaissance was founded in part by former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean who was a supporter of increased options for kids, charter schools and TFA specifically. Were you on board right from the beginning?

AS: I joined the team in November of 2015, along with my coworker Ariba Qureshi. I know that prior to me being hired, there were several key people who were relationship building and engaging parents. (Courtney, Wendy, Justin and Jay). We officially launched Nashville Rise June 23, 2016 when we hosted our school board candidate forum. This informative session served as an opportunity for parents to ask questions and engage school board candidates prior to the August 4 election.

DGW: What was your background at the time, and how did you become involved in Nashville Rise?

AS: When my daughter was in the fist grade, I did a lot of volunteering at her school. I was volunteering for a field trip, and prior to us getting on the bus to go to the zoo, a lady came in who was talking about Project Renaissance and how they were trying to engage and organize parents. She spoke about the importance of parents realizing they had a voice and elevating that collective voice to improve Davidson County schools.

That ladies name was Courtney Wheeler and I will never forget the moment I heard her speak. She spoke with such passion and when she talked, it was like she had been reading my mind! She was stressing that parents are important and their voices are important. She spoke of the importance of kids getting a great education regardless of zip code, having a safe place to go, and all families having equal access to great schools, all things that resonated with me.

She told our principal that they were looking for an organizer. People at the school said, “Ma’am, Ms. Simpson is looking for a job, you should talk to her.” I met Courtney for coffee. We had an amazing conversation. I then met Jay Mazon, who was our director at the time, and I got hired.

I had been working at a mental health facility. I was tired and burned out, and I just didn’t feel like I was really making a difference. I thought that I wanted to do more. I think God just aligned all these things in place for me to be able to do this work.

DGW: How have things changed since then?

AS: Tremendously. We have about 500, give or take, parents who are regularly involved in a multitude of ways. Some are engaged through social media. Some attend events. Some speak at school board events. We have about 20-30 parents who are just always on the ground. I could call them right now and be like, “Hey, I need you to do this,” and they’re on it.

I feel like we’ve reached a lot of different parents. But from day one, we have had a lot of partnerships at charter schools. That is just because they were more welcoming. I’ve developed a lot of relationships recently with some additional schools. I’ve been really intentional about expanding out who we work with, because I feel like we are all public schools and we all need to be in this fight together. I just really want to open up the lines of communication and get to the root of the disconnect and why we are always at war with each other.

DGW: Have you figured that out yet?

AS: (Smiling) No. But, as far as fighting for progress, I’m in there. And I hear things like, “Okay, this lady isn’t so bad. She literally is trying to get us heard. She’s really is legit. She’s really fighting for us parents.” Some people are starting to realize that we are trying to improve all schools and not just take kids from your school. That’s where we’ve the seen the most progress. Where we’ve actually been able to make inroads with the school system.

I was just checking my email, and a principal over in Madison had sent me an email inviting us to an event that they’re having. That kind of thing really wasn’t happening before, but through our efforts and boots on the ground, people are starting to realize that we want to help everyone improve. A private school wants us to come and empower their parents, and I’m cool with that. We want to empower all parents. Now that we’ve broken away and formed our own entity, we are like 110% parent-led. Our board consists of five people, all parents.

DGW: Hold on. Let’s back up one second, I don’t know that a lot of people know that Nashville Rise has separated from Project Renaissance and are now their own independent entity. Tell me a little bit more about that.

AS: So, we were incubated by Project Renaissance. Project Renaissance was formed to ensure that all kids had access to a great school. Under their umbrella, there were separate initiatives, the teacher talent piece was one and the parent involvement piece was another. Project Renaissance conducted tours to spread the word about different schools and the things that they were doing. This was done to promote collaboration. But all initiatives acted separately.

DGW: So the breaking out of individual initiatives was always part of the plan?

AS: It was one part of a five-year plan, but it kind of happened faster than five years. I think basically we were just ready to transition and that is pretty much the reason why it happened now. I know that NTR, the Nashville Teacher Residency program, is also breaking off. Project Renaissance was really meant to be the incubator.

DGW: So you now have your own board, independent of Project Renaissance.

AS: Correct. Nashville Rise is now its own entity with its own board.

DGW: And who makes up that board?

AS: It’s parents, five parents. Me, I’m a board chair. We have a vice president, who is also a parent. We have a communications person who also, like me, works with other parents.

DGW: Is the board on salary or is it all volunteers?

AS: (chuckling) No. We are all volunteers. So I am currently unemployed.

DGW: I know that feeling.

AS: I am a volunteer just like the parents. Prior to that, I was getting paid a salary, but since we broke off into our own entity, we don’t have resources yet for a paid position. And that’s totally fine with me because I don’t need to be paid to do this work. I have a passion for it. If you asked anybody else who knows me, they will tell you the same thing. Now, I am freaking out a little bit because I do have two kids, but at the same time, I feel like everything happened in this order because it’s God’s plan and He has something greater for me. So whether He’s building this magical position for me or not is immaterial. All my bills are paid, we still have a house to live in, my kids are eating. So, yes I am a volunteer, and the other parents are volunteers. We’re all volunteers.

DGW: Impressive. Are you a Nashville native?

AS: No. I am from Cincinnati and I got here by way of college. I actually followed my daughter’s dad here. I hate to say it aloud but it’s true.

DGW: There’s always a boy involved.

AS: Right. I went to Auburn and graduated in 2007. I needed a job and this is the very first place I found a job. I moved here and that was it.

DGW: So Nashville Rise was created and you started recruiting parents. Where did they come from?

AS: They came from us just going to PTA meetings. I went and talked about Nashville Rise at my daughter’s school. I went to community events. We did movies in the park. Any opportunity for us to reach people. I talked to a lady at the grocery store once.

DGW: One of the things that I’ve been impressed by recently is that your ability to reach parents who normally wouldn’t speak out and get them to speak in front of the school board. Previously, I’ve raised the question of how much is indoctrination versus teaching parents to speak out, but in all fairness, at this juncture there does seem to me that at this juncture there’s less indoctrination and more empowerment going on. How do you get those parents to step up and be bolder?

AS: My coworker Ariba and I worked together in doing this. It was funny because Ariba is not a parent, but she had a huge passion for the work we were doing. If you ever get a chance to talk to Ariba, you should, she has an amazing story that stems from watching her parents come to America from Pakistan and sacrifice so much so that she and her sister would have equal access to a great education. Her passion, along with my passion, and our ability to build relationships and be nonjudgmental has paved the way. We just sit down with parents and talk to them. First and foremost we ask, “How’s your day going?” We stress that we are really here to take the time to get to know them. I go on a lot of luncheons. I go to a lot of coffee houses. I go to sporting events and school events because I think it’s important for people to know that you really care and that I’m not here just saying, “Hey, sign up, join Nashville Rise.” For me, I know how great it feels when other people have taken their time to just care about me and my kids, and I want to spread that feeling to others.

In my opinion, that’s how we’ve done it. I think just being sincere and just being transparent are the keys. Just letting people know that there’s no hidden agenda and that this is what it is. We don’t do any coaching and we try not to tell parents to “say this, don’t say this.” It has always been just “tell me your story. Sit down, talk to me, tell me your story, the good, the bad, and the ugly. What do you want me to know? Tell me.” Okay, thanks. Then I ask questions and I say, “Now, why don’t you go say that in a room full of people with your back to the majority of them? You’re only looking at nine people who are just like you, and tell them what you told me.”

Some of our parents have trouble with English, and they don’t really understand email. They ask why do they have to sign up with email. They get frustrated and say, “I’m not going to do it.” So, you know, we could make things a lot more convenient for parents. It’s not an easy task.

DGW: Right.

AS: You’re telling me that you want a PTA or that the ceiling in your building is falling down. Nobody’s going to know that until you speak about it. My mom once told me that a closed mouth never gets fed and I’ve tried to always remember that.

So when you explain it like that, yes it’s hard, but at the same time it makes sense. They click. I want my parents to shine. I want my organization to shine and I want people to see the great work that we’re doing. I mean that’s it.

DGW: Do you guys rehearse beforehand at all?

AS: No.

DGW: That question is a compliment by the way, because all of your parents speak so confidently. They’re speaking authoritatively. They’re speaking knowledgeably. If you can get a parent out in front of a school board talking about… whatever, you’ve earned my admiration. I think that getting parents to voice their opinions is, in itself, an achievement because so many parents don’t feel empowered to speak up. So the fact that you’re empowering parents, period, let alone that the majority are minority parents, is remarkable.

AS: Right.

DGW: I think it’s fantastic.

AS: It wasn’t an easy task. When we told parents that one of our goals would be to get parents to speak there was some skepticism. Another challenge was that school board meetings are not at a realistic time for many of our parents. The meetings are at five, and they don’t have the option to leave work early or transportation is an issue. You can’t do a video conference. So that was another issue that had to be overcome. The time is just inconvenient for working parents.

DGW: That’s a good point. If the meeting starts at five o’clock and if I’m a parent working from 9 to 5, facing rush hour traffic, the odds of me getting there in time are slim. Maybe that’s why they’ve moved the public participation piece to later in the agenda.

AS: Perhaps, but I honestly still don’t think that they make a real effort to accommodate parents.

DGW: I don’t disagree.

AS: The meeting is at 5 o’clock, they’ve changed the way that parents can sign up, and you need to email your request to speak. Some of my parents didn’t have email addresses. So then it becomes a matter of me sitting down with them and creating an email account so that they can sign up. That’s so inconvenient.

Some of our Middle Eastern parents have trouble with English, and they don’t really understand email. They ask why do they have to sign up with email. They get frustrated and say, “I’m not going to do it.” So, you know, we could make things a lot more convenient for parents. It’s not an easy task.

DGW: This is an area where I am highly critical. We say we want more parent involvement, but do we really? It feels like it’s a very specific type of parent involvement that we are looking for – reading to classes, making copies, raising money. If that’s not the case, why do we raise barriers instead of lowering them? It feels like the district just wants parents to join the PTA and not dive any deeper than that. Don’t ask those questions we don’t want to answer. It all seems very geared towards the district setting the agenda instead of parents. How do you see Nashville Rise lining up with district initiatives? Is there a vision where all can entwine or are you focusing on getting parents you work with as involved as possible and letting things fall where they fall?

AS: In a perfect world, we would love to have a partnership with the district because I feel like there are things they can do to help us, and things that we could do to help them. There is Parent University, you have your Community Schools – these are all empowering parents. But I know there are things that they are not doing. That’s where Nashville Rise comes in. We have our parent empowerment sessions were we train parents and give them information that they may not be getting anywhere else, information that allows them to be more proactive in their children’s education.

We’ve consciously tried to narrow our focus. When we first started, I was on social media all the time just getting out the word. And I thought it was so important that I fight back against every criticism. But I came to the realization that I can’t focus on the attacks from certain school board members and other critics. My time is too valuable and I need to be focused on parents and their issues, as well as my own children. I’m a parent myself. My one-year-old is teething and running around the house. I can’t take away time from my kid’s needs and my parents’ needs to try to debunk every false accusation that comes along. I have to let the work speak for itself. So that’s where our priorities are at these days.

DGW: It’s interesting that you mentioned that, because I’ve been on a similar journey myself.  When I first started writing the Dad Gone Wild blog, four years ago, I interacted almost exclusively with advocates. Now, I engage a lot more with educators, and it’s given me a deeper sense of what’s happening in our schools. Not discounting the advocates, because without them things would look a whole lot different and I still share the majority of their views. For me personally, I just had to shift my focus. I got to the same point about two years ago as you did. I couldn’t, just couldn’t, spend all of my time fighting against things. I had to look deeper at the roots.

You and I are sitting here talking, and through our conversation, I’m getting a better understanding of why you have made the choices you have made. I don’t have to agree with them, but I need to understand them if I’m going to ensure that I’m doing everything possible to make our schools better and there are things I can learn from you. I feel where you are coming from. I just don’t have time to be arguing the same things over and over. My positions haven’t changed dramatically, but my focus has, in a way similar to yours: let’s focus on making things better.

AS: I think I’ve grown a lot over the last couple of years. I’m proud of the work we do. Recently I had our parents in a room and as I looked around, I realized that these parents had become friends. These parents are sharing ideas and they are talking about when they attended our first training and how the information that we gave them was so impactful. I remember I had one of our parents say, “Oh my gosh! I didn’t even know that APF (Academic Performance Framework) existed. I didn’t even know they invite parents to school. I didn’t know this information was out here and like now that I have this information, I’m going back to my school tomorrow and asking my principal, what do I need to do? And then I’m coming back to you, Alison, and I need you to let me know how to do things once I’ve figured out what needs to be done. I need you to let me know how to organize this.”

So that’s where I’m at now, and I’m working with passion. Sometimes at our meetings, I just sit there and look. We have such a diverse group of parents, parents from all races and backgrounds. This is our moment and these parents are so strong and their stories are so amazing. They have such great ideas and they are searching for someone to listen and I think that should set the stage for a MNPS/Nashville Rise partnership. We would also like to reach more fathers, so if you have any ideas on that please share them!

DGW: It would be nice if we had more fathers involve and to be fair over the last several years their involvement has grown. It’d be nice if grew even more.

Advocacy is always such a journey and I reflect how I’ve grown in its pursuit. In the past I was much more adamant that my way was the only way. I reflect back and think about how I tried to drive people with different views than me out of the conversation. And I’m not the only one, on either side. It seems at times the desire to drive those with opposing views out of the conversation becomes our primary focus instead of trying to reach a deeper understanding. I look at some of the work being done by people I disagree with, and I have to give credit where it is due, some of it is really good.

You are a strong proponent of charter schools. I think they are a detriment to public education. Now we can focus on drawing a hard line on that issue and just going to war over it or we can step back and realize that we both feel parental involvement is essential and something we can collaborate on. There was a time I would’ve tried to put an end to Nashville Rise. And I have to think, what if I had been successful at that, who would have been the beneficiary? I think we need to keep things in perspective.

AS: Right.

DGW: All that would have been lost. All of those parents, even if it’s just one parent, who got involved in their kid’s school through Nashville Rise, would’ve been lost because nobody was ready to take up the challenge, and to some extent nobody else is currently. There is a great deal of criticism towards Nashville Rise, some may be warranted, but I still have to ask of people who criticize, “Okay. If we don’t like Nashville Rise because of their perceived attachment to the privatization movement, who then?” It’s the same question as, “If we get rid of all charter schools, what happens then?” So, that’s one of the areas that I’ve tried to mellow a little bit and shift the focus to the actual work.

I take bits and pieces of conversations with people and use them as touchstones. Last year I had a conversation with Patrick Frogge, School Board member Amy Frogge’s husband, and it wasn’t a great conversation for either of us, but in the midst of it he said to me, “The reason I love Bernie Sanders is because he never compromises. The reason I get frustrated with Bernie Sanders is because he never compromises.” Patrick may be shocked, but I’ve made those words part of my daily checklist. I ask myself, is this a place to compromise or one to be unbending? The answers vary, and I’m not sure I always get it right. But I am more cognizant than in the past. I doubt you are reading this Patrick, but if so, thank you.

AS: I’m always open to communicate. I feel like, if you want a relationship to work, you have to have communication. In order to get this work done, no one person can do it alone. We have to collaborate. So, I’m more than willing to sit and talk, but I’m not going to engage in the game of social media feuds anymore. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to fight. I’m not going to argue. If you want to sit down, you want to hear my story, you want to learn about me, great. Call me and say, “Meet me at the coffee shop. What’s up?”

DGW: I get it.

AS: I just look for ways for us all to work more together. The angry arguments are counterproductive. We don’t all have to agree, but think of what we could do if we focused all of that negative energy into something positive. We’d be the talk of the country and for something we could be proud of.

DGW: Last question before we go, what are your short term goals for Nashville Rise?

AS: Short term goals? Just continue to reaching more parents.

DGW: Simple as can be – just reach more parents?

AS: Yes. We are really just getting started as a board and as an organization. I’m just trying to figure it all out like, “What are we going to look like now?” I mean, our mission, our vision, our core values are still going to be the same. How are we going to get to that end goal? So right now, our focus is just parents.

DGW: Cool. Thank you.

AS: Yes. Thank you.

We paid our tab and walked out to the car together. I found myself really liking Allison. We obviously have different opinions on things, but I don’t know if that’s surprising or not because we have different life experiences. Her life experiences are ones that I could only guess at prior to sitting down and really talking to her, and I’m extremely grateful for her candor. MNPS is a big district with a wide variety of hopes, dreams, expectations, and opinions. We cannot afford to fall into the trap of thinking ours are the only ones that matter. We have to spend more time listening to each other.