THERE IS NO CRAZY LIKE NASHVILLE CRAZY

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The focus of Nashvillians’ involvement in education issues continues to be centered around MNPS budget issues. This week, Dr. Joseph managed to assuage some of those concerns, at least in the short term. We’ll get into details in a minute, but first I’d like to talk about the power of language and the style Dr. Joseph continually utilizes in his dealing with both district employees and the general public. I’m a big believer that words have meaning. How you use them says as much about you as the content you are trying to convey. Word choice is a reflection of your true thoughts and feelings. We’ve all heard the saying “How you say it is just as important as what you are saying.” That holds true for educational leaders as well.

TOTO, I HAVE A FEELING WE ARE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE

I find it a bit concerning that after two years in Nashville, Dr. Joseph and his immediate cabinet continue to employ language that I would expect from someone who is just a visitor to Nashville and not an actual member of the community. During a recent principal meeting, he referred to the “crazy” of Nashville from the point of view of an outsider. He offered criticisms on equity as someone who is just observing the community and not as someone who is emerged in it. He was free in his criticism of our community while failing to employ language that indicated a familiarity with it.

Dr. Joseph has been extremely critical of Nashville when it comes to racial issues and equity. Has Nashville been as progressive as it should be when it comes to race? No, and we need to have a deeper conversation as a city about race. But we need to remember that Nashville has been long been at the center of the Civil Rights battle, and before we attempt to enter that conversation we should demonstrate a familiarity with that history.

As a parent of children in a school made up primarily of brown-skinned children, I can testify that we have equity issues. But when was the last time a thief stopped stealing because you called him a thief? When was the last time an adulterer quit cheating on their spouse because you called them a dog? In my fifty-plus years on this earth, I’ve found that people, for the most part, are good, and when presented with information in a manner that is thought out and doesn’t make them defensive about who they are, they’ll make the right choices. But you have to give them the opportunity.

I’ve often said that previous Director of Schools Jesse Register’s downfall was that he got tired and started wanting to go from A to D without going through B and C. Dr. Joseph is employing a similar strategy when it comes to race. He wants to get us to a position that he considers more equitable, but he doesn’t want to take the time to define equity, explain the transition process, explain why moves are necessary and how all will benefit, nor create a timeline for a reasonable transition. It was a strategy that backfired on Register and odds are it’ll do the same for Joseph.

News flash! Asking a roomful of people if they have seen Black Panther and then noting the number of black people versus the number of white people who have seen it puts people on the defensive and doesn’t facilitate meaningful conversation about equity. In fact, it may be an indication that you are putting people in the box, or that you yourself are in the box. I can’t keep track which is which.

Making accusations on a radio show geared towards an African-American audience that “Some people just want to make sure they got theirs and not worry about others” is not going to make a community stronger. Unfortunately, too much of that targeted audience is all too familiar with the connotations of that phrase. Not to mention that many of the people who the phrase is directed towards might not actually have that motivation. It’s a phrase meant to divide instead of heal. Assigning criticism and questioning a purely racial component benefits no one. Leaders unite; they don’t pit their team members against each other and sow distrust.

Standing in front of the room and remarking about how “crazy” Nashville is because its citizens are involved and vigilant also does not unite. Another news flash: Nashville is not some dot on the map for you anymore, Dr. Joseph. The people you are addressing are not just some attendees at an education conference. They are YOUR community. They are YOUR neighbors. That “crazy” you mention… it’s a part of you now, too. You need to shift from pointing out our faults to finding ways to help us become better.

Words also reflect what your values are as a person. If I regularly told Polack jokes in public, you’d probably draw the conclusion that I was a bit of a bigot. If I continually made comments about the dumb conservatives who voted for Trump – just an example – there is a good bet that the conservatives in the room wouldn’t trust me. (Side note: that was just an example, so conservatives, please keep listening.) The same holds true when you repeatedly make use of sexual activities in a metaphoric manner. Especially if those metaphors could be perceived as making light of overly aggressive sexual actions.

MNPS has had two administrators resign under the cloud of sexual misconduct this year. The district is currently facing multiple lawsuits that are related to sexual misconduct. There have been other MNPS principals and teachers that have been investigated for sexual misconduct this year. We are right in the middle of the #MeToo movement. Yet, in spite all of this, in the last two weeks, Dr. Joseph felt it appropriate to refer to Nashville as always “wanting to look up his skirt” and then compared the budget process to going on a date, foregoing hand holding, and instead “going in aaarrrggghhh” (or hard, depending how you heard it). Let’s be clear. Both of those activities could leave you open for charges of sexual misconduct.

I know, some of you are rolling your eyes right now and thinking, “Here we go with the politically correct bullshit again.” But I go back to my opening statement: words have meaning. Words are windows into what you are really thinking. You are judged not just by your deeds, but your words and the company you keep. We tell our kids that ad nauseum while raising them up. It should apply to adults as well.

Several women brought forth complaints against former district administrator Mo Carrasco. They brought those accusations forth amid great courage, knowing the risks inherent in coming forth. They just had to trust that they would be believed and their accusations would be taken seriously. Now put yourself in the mind of a woman facing similar circumstances sitting in that auditorium listening to Dr. Joseph. Or a teacher, or a student who overhears their principal relaying the anecdote about skipping the handholding and getting right to business in a humorous manner to another school employee. After all, what’s the purpose of conveying information at a leadership meeting if not to have it shared? What is the message that is being sent? What is the culture that is being created? Not to mention what is the message sent to our boys? Do these words not implicitly send a message that sexual aggression is somehow acceptable enough that you can utilize it as a metaphor? Or as it’s often expressed… boys will be boys. It should be completely unacceptable to everyone.

At some point, Dr. Joseph, Dr. Narcisse, and Dr. Felder need to realize that they are not in Maryland anymore. Nashville is their community now. They need to recognize that their words and actions impact the culture of their community, just like they did in Maryland. Sorry to break it to you, Doc… but you are one of us now. We need you to act like it.

TITLE I NEWS

As anticipated, changes were announced to the distribution method of Title I funds yesterday. Going forth, schools who are above the 75% poverty level will receive $651 per direct certified student, and schools between 50% and 74% will receive $300. This will soften the blow for some schools, while getting the needed resources to others. The general feeling was that if this had been the initial proposal, then a lot of the turmoil that has embroiled the district over the last several weeks could have been avoided.

Don’t think for one minute that the reduction in turmoil is anything but temporary though. We are still awaiting the full budget. Joseph plans to share that at his State of the Schools address on March 28th. This means we still haven’t seen a central office budget. It also means that virtually all conversations about the budget, including public hearings, has been based on the hypothetical. That should raise some concerns.

At yesterday’s budget talk to principals, Joseph indicated that his budget would require an additional $45 million in revenue from the Metro Council. He was going to ask for $59 million, but being a frugal guy, he lowered the ask. This $45 million ask will come as Nashville itself is looking at a loss of $25 million in revenue. I would think that ask would be a lot easier if MNPS could demonstrate that the extra money they received last year was well utilized and produced measurable results. As it stands, there seems to be a dearth of evidence of progress and an abundance of questions. Hopefully the upcoming Metro audit will illuminate spending a little better.

One last budget morsel for you – Joseph took the opportunity of the principal’s meeting to lay out his priorities for the coming year. They are as follows:

  • Literacy
  • STEAM
  • SEL
  • Community Achieves
  • Equity
  • Employee Compensation

Keep in mind Dr. Joseph’s words on the board floor last week: “Your budget is your public demonstration of your values.” Hmmm… any teachers out there still expecting a signed MOU this year, let alone a raise?

HOW EFFECTIVE ARE THOSE FILTERS?

By now we should all be familiar with the ongoing lead in the school drinking water story. The brunt of the story is that MNPS schools have high levels of lead in the drinking water. The district keeps arguing that they are doing the best they can to correct the situation, and we keep finding out that they are not. The latest bone of contention comes over the water filters that parents wanted installed at West End Middle School and that the district didn’t install. The communications department has been belaboring the point that those filters don’t filter out lead anyway, so they are superfluous. Let’s take a closer look at that claim.

Looking at the ad for the filters, it reads that they remove lead from the water to the NSF/ANSI 53 certification requirements. Huh? Google time! Luckily, there is an organization called NSF that, in their own words, “is an independent, not-for-profit organization that writes standards, and tests and certifies products for the food, water and consumer goods industries to minimize adverse health effects and protect the environment.” So they should know about the effectiveness of the filters, right?

A call to them informed me that if a filter system has the NSF/ANSI 53 certification, then it has been shown to reduce the lead in water to below 10 mg/L. Now they did add the caveat that the company making the filter system had to have the seal displayed in order for the claim to be verifiable. Just because their advertising made the claim didn’t make it true. I asked about the unit in question, the HTHB HydroBoost. She told me that they hadn’t done the certification on that one but I should call another company, InterTek, as they also do certifications.

A call to InterTek couldn’t confirm that they had certified the unit, but they recommended a call to the company itself. At the company, I spoke with a nice woman who was kind enough to look up the unit and send me the spec sheet. Right there on the sheet is the seal, from both Intertek and the Water Quality Association. So apparently, it does lower lead in drinking water. I did put a call into the communications department because I would really like some evidence supporting their claim that these filters do not reduce lead in drinking water, but I got no answer. Hopefully next week they’ll give me an answer, but until then, I’m throwing the Dr. J flag.

QUICK HITS

And just like that, the local guy is no longer in the running to be the next head of Tennessee’s Achievement School District. This week, State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen informed Keith Sanders of the news that he wouldn’t be advancing forward in the process. Apparently he had a little too much baggage.

Speaking of baggage, guess who’s become a regular at the MNPS leadership cabinet meetings? Why, none other than former Knoxville Superintendent Jim McIntyre. I guess since Knoxville County Schools broke up with him and his leadership academy, he’s got a little time on his hands, and hanging out in MNPS leadership meetings is as good a place as anywhere. Since it all seems to be about leadership development and principal pipelines, perhaps they could invite Mo Carrasco and Dallas Dance, both experts in leadership training, to join them.

Speaking of leadership academies, riddle me this… MNPS already has a principal pipeline program underway, so why would we need to partner with TFA to develop assistant principals? That’s a question current principals were probably asking themselves when they opened the email from TFA this past week explaining the Nashville Assistant Principal Fellowship. Apparently, MNPS has partnered with Lipscomb University and Teach For America to locate, train, and then place candidates in AP positions in the district’s high-need schools. Who knew?

Mark it down on your calendar, the inaugural Project Lit Summit is happening June 16th. You’ll want to be a part of this one.

You’ve probably heard Governor Haslam talk about all that he has done to increase funding for schools in Tennessee. Well, just like the kid who tells you how well he’s doing in school until you get his report card, the Governor’s rhetoric has been debunked. The National Report Card on School Funding Fairness is out and Tennessee’s grade ain’t so great.

According to Andy Spears over at the TN Education Report, “The Report Card analyzes several indicators of school funding to determine how a state supports schools. The most basic is raw spending on schools. Here, Tennessee ranks 43rd in the nation. So, still near the bottom.” Andy offers up a complete analysis in his latest blog post.

Four Nashville school each won a $2500 grant from Dell this week. Congratulations to the following schools and their projects:

  • East Nashville Magnet Middle School’s Rollercoaster Reality Collaboration
  • Apollo Middle School’s Robotics Classes
  • Donelson Middle School’s Computer Lab Enhancement
  • Margaret Allen Middle School’s Summer STEAM Workshop

Well done!

This Saturday, March 24, the Hendersonville-area Links Incorporated is hosting Chew & Move, a free healthy festival for the whole family.

If you haven’t checked out the video of Waverly-Belmont ES student Carden Corts doing the weather, you need to. The video has gone viral and is bringing smiles to folks around the world.

New music out today. The latest entry in the award-winning Miles Davis Bootleg Series focuses on the final chapter in the landmark collaboration between Davis and saxophonist John Coltrane: their last live performances together, in Europe in the spring of 1960. It’s good.

Here’s one for MNPS leadership: Culture Wins: The Roadmap to an irresistible Workplace. There are books on general team building, there are books on workplace best practices, and there are books on leadership—but there is not a book that shows forward-thinking leaders how to integrate it into today’s new job-hopping culture. William Vanderbloemen uses his company’s proven experience in staffing and organizational consulting to provide a global perspective of effective, thriving cultures—and how to create them.

POLL QUESTIONS

Let’s head off to this week’s questions now. First up, I think you’ve had a long enough time to get to know him, and many of you have known him for years, so what are your thoughts on our brand new mayor, David Briley?

For the second question, let’s play some pretend. Pretend you are a Metro Council member and Dr. Joseph presents you with a budget that includes an additional $45 million in expenditures. What’s your reaction?

Last question: Dr. Joseph listed 6 priorities for the upcoming budget. Of those 6, what do you feel should be the #1 priority? That’s right, I’m kinda pitting 6 really important issues against each other. Which is what we did with the Title I distribution formula, so why not?

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

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

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A MNPS BUDGET PETITION IS CREATED

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In a post earlier in the week, I poised the question of whether or not this year’s budget process was more chaotic than in previous years. I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know that none have ever produced a community-generated petition asking the school board to hold the Director of Schools accountable until now. Today I received a copy of the petition and a request to share it. That is why I am writing this post.

In sharing, I want to attempt to clarify something in the introduction to the attached petition. This isn’t an attempt to discredit the call to action – I support it a 100% – but rather an ongoing attempt to keep things as close to accurate as possible in order not to open the door to being discredited. I think it’s important that if we are to hold the Director of Schools accountable for the veracity of his statements, we need to be as factual as possible as well.

There is always confusion around Title I numbers. The state did indeed change the way Title I eligibility is calculated. Now, only students who are directly certified to receive free lunches — families receiving certain government assistance — are counted as poor. This change has resulted in our schools seeing lower official poverty numbers. This new method does not take undocumented or refugee students into account, nor people who don’t sign up for direct services. In order to counter that fact, the federal government allows districts to multiple their measured number by 1.6 so that becomes their official poverty number. If a school’s percentage comes up higher than 100%, their official number is 100%. Any school that has a poverty number over 75% must receive district funds as mandated by the federal government.

It is my opinion that the Title I distribution formula will be changed again at tomorrow’s giant conclave of principals, EDDSIs, and Community Superintendents. If that does happen, then all principals will have to redo their budgets. All principal budget meetings originally scheduled for this week have been canceled. It is my understanding that positions at individual schools can not be filled until all individual budgets have been approved. Which means we’ll begin hiring teachers again in May, once again getting a late start. Teachers should probably check on when the transfer window closes – I believe it is May 21 – in order that they don’t get caught out of it.

I agree with the petition that the budget process this year has been extremely opaque and misleading. Numbers have changed often enough that it is hard to get a clear picture and understanding of the whole budget. It’s imperative that a central office budget be released as soon as possible in order to get a clearer picture. I’m not even sure why we are having this much of a conversation based on this little information. Dr. Joseph and Dr. Narcisse like to pontificate upon the need to control the noise, but they have not been successful in doing so around the budget this year. I hope all of you will sign this petition and make even more noise.

Here it is:

https://www.ipetitions.com/petition/open-letter-about-the-budget-to-the-mnps-school#scrollTo–undefined

 

PASSION IS RUNNING HIGH

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Starting with this week’s post, I’m going to make some changes to how I distribute these posts. Previously I have posted links in various neighborhood groups across the city. While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, as of late I have heard some grumblings about the perceived politics of my writing and some questions as to whether those neighborhood boards are the proper place to post. Out of respect for all, I’m going to refrain from posting in those locations going forth. While I appreciate all the groups for allowing me a vehicle to spread the word, I want my writing to inform not alienate. Besides, by now I figure y’all know where to find me.

RUNNING HOT

Last Tuesday’s board meetings seems to have served as a catalyst for a more honest relationship between the MNPS school board and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and his leadership team. In the past, board members loathed to offer public criticism. That changed on Tuesday as Chair Anna Shepherd, Vice-Chair Jill Speering, and board member Amy Frogge all raised questions about this year’s budget process along with a recently imposed district budget freeze. Those repercussions are still rippling outward.

Questions didn’t stop after the board meeting. Shepherd and Speering both cited concerns in a letter to Metro auditor Mark Swan asking him to look into the MNPS budget. Some concerns were alleviated Friday when it appeared that the budget freeze had been at least partially lifted, as principals started getting budget exception requests back marked as accepted. District leadership tried to explain things off as a misunderstanding, a claim that rang a little hollow based upon the reading of communications from central office.

Over the weekend, in a Facebook post, Speering expressed concerns about Joseph’s playing fast and loose with the truth over recent weeks. In response, on Sunday afternoon, Joseph went on WQQK with his number 2 guy Sito Narcisse and the board’s budget finance committee chair Tyese Hunter in tow to defend his proposed budget. During the 40-minute interview, Joseph evoked both the mythical home of the Black Panther, Wakanda, and compared himself to former President Obama while declaring that he and his administration were merely dragging a reluctant district towards equity. What I found most interesting is that in taking to the air to defend his budget, he continued his loose association with the truth.

For example, when discussing the changes to the distribution formula for Title I funding, Joseph states, “People are all for equity except when they perceive that they are losing something.” He goes on to say that he is not taking anything away from anybody in order to give more to somebody else. Hunter reiterates this position during her talking points, and then through a reference to Wakanda, Joseph accuses, I’m assuming parents and school administrators, of taking a “We’ve got ours, don’t worry about anybody else” mentality.

I find this whole exchange a little insulting and an attempt to draw needless battle lines between different schools and communities. His argument breaks down around several tenets. First off, the claim that the redistribution of Title I funds is not taking money from one school and giving it to another defies basic mathematical principles. If there is a pot of, say, 32 million dollars, and I have 10 million and you have 22 million, how do you propose to get more money from that pot without taking money from me? Now if Sam comes along and gives us each a couple hundred thousand dollars, that is a separate discussion, but when it comes to the set pot of money, in order for you to increase your share, you will have to decrease mine. There is no other way. To suggest otherwise is disingenuous.

Secondly, in Dr. Joseph’s narrative, the impression is given that all the poor brown-skinned kids go to one set of schools and all the wealthier white kids go to a second, much smaller, set of schools. And that’s just not an accurate picture of Nashville’s schools. Admittedly, there are some schools at either end of the spectrum. For example, Percy Priest ES has 2.62% of students who receive direct services (DS)(students whose families receive DS is how Title I eligibility is calculated). While on the other end of the spectrum, Buena Vista ES has 100% poverty. All told, we have 29 schools at 100% and an additional 36 schools at 75% to 99%, which equal a total of 65 schools. In the interview, Dr. Narcisse stated that over half of our schools were at a 75% and above poverty level.

We have 7 schools with under 25% receiving DS. The rest fall somewhere between 25% and 75%. 28 schools fall between 50% and 75%. It’s been my experience that Nashville as a city cares a great deal about ALL of its kids and is made up of many extremely generous people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen parents in the wealthier parts of town reach into their own pockets to help our poorer families. To try to paint them as trying to grab on to their resources at the expense of others is, again, disingenuous.

The reality is that parents are looking at the budget and seeing fewer resources to serve kids who attend schools that are not 75% and above DS. Kids at schools between 50% and 75% DS, who are losing Title I funds, are just as needy and just as deserving of additional resources as those in higher poverty schools. The numbers in the current individual school’s budgets raise questions about whether or not they will receive the resources they need. How does equity translate into taking away extra support if you don’t go to school exclusively with economically disadvantaged kids? Furthermore, I would ask, why are we pitting schools against each other in an argument over whose kids are the most needy? How does that create a culture of collaboration, let alone equity?

The argument put forth by the district is that those schools at 100% DS are our lowest performing and therefore require extra resources, but I look over the at-risk list and I see several high poverty schools that are not in the bottom 10% performance-wise. Schools like Una Elementary, Haywood Elementary, and Taylor Stratton Elementary all have poverty levels over 75%, yet manage not to fall into the bottom 10%. Glenview ES has a poverty level of 100%, yet has failed to fall onto the priority list. So perhaps, while money is important, it’s not the only thing. I would ask has anyone really looked at what these schools are doing and attempted to replicate it? Why hire outside consultants when we have people right here in the district making progress?

Interestingly enough, in the interview, Dr. Joseph implores parents to look at the budgets online and then ask questions of their principals. But that’s exactly what Anna Shepherd, Jill Speering, and Amy Frogge did. They spent time with their principals, and after having the school budgets explained, realized there were issues. When they brought these issues forth, they were dismissed. Does Dr. Joseph believe that if parents replicate the process they’ll get different results? Or is it just another example of saying something you think sounds good to people and praying nobody checks you?

As a parent, I’ve tried to do what he suggests, but some of the numbers just don’t make sense. Look at John F. Kennedy Middle School, which is in the bottom 10% but is only at 63.49% DS, so they are losing $268,632 in Title I funding in next year’s budget. They are expected to gain 19 students next year, so their student-based budget for 2019 is expected to grow by $489,992 or… $25,789 per student? Yet next year they will average $6,148 per student,  which is only an extra $131 per student. So either something is wrong with my math or the district’s figures, or we are giving someone a helping hand to the priority list.

Charlotte Park ES has 72.7% of students receiving DS and is in the bottom 8%. They are losing $193,848 in Title I money. They are expected to lose 83 kids, and therefore they will lose $347,664 from their 2019 student-based budget allocation. For some reason those kids are only worth $4,188 a kid. Their per pupil allocation next year is projected at $7,757. Up a whopping $216 or 2.9%. What about equity now?

I know some may disagree, but you can’t just say whatever sounds good, and then when questioned just write it off as noise. I’m sure Joseph, and some others, took exception to Speering’s Facebook post. But when you shut down all other channels of communication and you fail to publicly correct what are clearly untruths, what do you expect? When you put more emphasis on “managing the noise” than ensuring you are providing factual information, what do you expect? When you release such a mountain of information that it is clear your intent is to obfuscate as opposed to elucidate, what do you expect?

Is the budget project more disorganized this year than it has been in previous years? I don’t know. It feels more chaotic. We still don’t have numbers for the central office portion of the budget. Last year the full budget was presented to the board on the 14th of March, so we are a little behind. That budget presented to Metro on the 14th was then approved on April 11th. So that’s not yet out of reach for this year.

Dr. Joseph has publicly stated that he plans to release the complete budget on March 28th at his State of Schools address. That would keep us on track in comparison to last year. Unfortunately I can’t shake the feeling that he’s using the budget release at the State of Schools as a means to deflect from a lack of tangible evidence available indicating that the district is making real academic progress.

During his radio interview, Dr. Joseph cited the doubling of kids taking advanced academics, more kids reading on grade level – despite basically flat MAP scores – and a greater parental understanding of where their kids are performing academically. Again, all that sounds good, but I’m going to have to throw the Dr. J Flag and ask for some supporting evidence.

What is clear is that parents are more confused over this year’s budget process than in previous years, and confused parents make for unhappy parents. There is still time to get this right, but the devil is in the details, and right now leadership ain’t paying enough attention to the details. They also shouldn’t confuse parent’s growing passion for noise; that mistake can only make things harder.

QUICK TAKES

Speaking of details, MNPS missed another chance to get it right today. Monday started off with everybody knowing it might be a short day. Meteorologists had been warning for the previous 24 hours that dangerous storms were a possibility and the predicted arrival time was right as kids would be heading home from school. With that kind of warning, you probably thought MNPS had a sound plan in place with a clear line of command. Wrong again.

With nary a thought about lunch schedules, after care, parents getting home before kids, or a number of other potential issues, MNPS sent kids home 3.5 hours after they arrived. Tusculum ES was just starting lunch when the word came down from central office. They scrambled into action and fed lunch to 780 students in under an hour, answered or made over 350 phone calls, and got every child home by 12:40pm. Yeah, I’m bragging, but the point is if it had been left to the district, at least half of those kids would have gone home unfed with perhaps no meal until tomorrow and many parents would have been uninformed. I’m sure many other schools rose to the challenge as well, but that shouldn’t let the district off the hook.

Who was in charge today, you might ask? Dr. Joseph was on a plane to Washington, DC. Dr. Narcisse was out sick, though he sounded fine on the radio yesterday. Dr. Felder’s scheduled trip to Houston was canceled, but she wasn’t in the building pre-cancellation. Chris Henson was also out. Hmmm… this might be the reason things were so chaotic. Who could have known… oh yeah. My friend and fellow blogger Mary Holden, as always, does a better job of drawing the picture of what happened.

Rumor on the street is that Antioch HS principal Keiva Wiley has been told not to report back to school. She will reportedly be finishing out her tenure working from another location on a special project. Probably the same project Mo Carrasco was working on. While I’m very happy for the staff and family of Antioch HS about this development, I take no pleasure in it. All of this could have been avoided if somebody… anybody… would have exhibited even a modicum of leadership. Instead this ended tragically for everyone.

Speaking of “didn’t have to end this way and just a modicum of leadership”… Executive Director of Facilities Dennis Neal resigned on Friday after being placed on administrative leave. Culture, I tell you, it’s the culture.

The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) is out with a new study on what happens to students after high school. In the words of President and CEO Shannon Hunt:

This report weaves together a great deal of data to tell the most complete story about what happens to our students after high school. Our hope is that it will spur a larger community conversation about what we need to do to improve the chances our high schoolers go on to and complete college. In the world we live in today, success of our public schools cannot be high school graduation alone; but rather, our measuring stick should be college completion. And certainly, our public school graduates should have the same chance for college success as their peers nationwide.

There is a lot of good information in the report. However, I remain a little dubious of the effort. Where does tracking of individuals after high school stop? Four years after college? A decade? Also, people quit college for all kinds of reasons. Obviously some more reasons are more prevalent than others, but some are highly personal, and I’m not sure I’m comfortable with all of them getting swept up in a data dump. But that’s just my take. Read the report and decide for yourself.

By the way, while we are speaking about NPEF, nominations are now open for the Hall of Fame. If anybody feels inclined to nominate me, I’ll polish up my acceptance speech.

Speaking of data, there was new action this weekend in the MNPS vs. the State battle over the sharing of student data. Hmmm… so sharing data with charter schools is bad, but sharing data with NPEF is good… But I digress. In January, a judge ruled against MNPS and said they had 30 days to turn over the data. That 30-day clock to turn over information to charter schools started on March 8. The district could still appeal the decision.

My favorite quote in the Tennessean article comes from State Rep. John Forgety, who chairs a House Education Committee and supported the legislation last spring. In September, he voiced his concerns about the law opening up school districts to recruit each other’s students. I love this recruitment argument because it completely ignores what takes place every year and is sanctioned by MNPS, the Choice Festival. As I’ve said many a time, enrolling your child in Croft MS when you’re zoned for McMurray MS has exactly the same impact as enrolling your child in Valor Academy instead of McMurray MS.

Speaking of Valor… Plans are on track for them to open their high school in the fall. They plan to start with one class at a time. The inaugural class will have 225 freshmen students. In looking at the floor plans, I can’t help but be irritated. Initially, the old Lowe’s building on Nolensville Pike was to be a temporary building to house Tusculum ES while the new school was being built, and then once Tusculum’s new building was completed, the building would become a new zoned elementary school. However, some elected officials failed to see the potential there and helped quash the plan. I must say, Valor’s floor plans impress me, and I think it will be a beautiful school.

In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, MNPS board member Will Pinkston saw the potential of this repurposed property way before anyone. Unfortunately, MNPS wasn’t able to capitalize on it. Perhaps the next time a big box retail property comes available we’ll be a little more visionary. That one falls at the feet of the previous administration, and not Dr. Joseph.

POLL RESULTS

Response to the polls seems to be on an upswing. I’m flattered by your taking the time to respond. Let’s look at those responses.

Question 1 asked for your opinion on this year’s budget process. While this question didn’t garner as many responses as the other questions due to technical issues, I think it’s safe to say that DGW readers are not impressed by this year’s process. 75% of you declared it a train wreck. 14% of you responded that you couldn’t figure out what are this year’s issues and what are next year’s issues. Only 3 of you expressed any kind of optimism. I think that this is one of those issues that any way you slice it, it comes up the same: leadership has to do a better job.

Here are the write-ins:

What are we hiding? Where is budget for Central Office? 1
The real crime is in underfunding Restorative Practice that harm children 1
Anything to protect that Tahoe. 1
How much more money will they misuse? This is a joke 1
2018-19 is most exclusionary budget in years 1
Look at the extra pay for Maritza Gonzalez

Question 2 asked for your opinion on Anna Shepherd and Jill Speering’s call for an audit by Metro Council. 92% of you indicated that you felt such a move was necessary, and nobody thought that it wasn’t. Let’s make that one clear: out of 157 responses, not one person called the audit unnecessary. Here are the write-ins:

Bout damn time. Let’s see if board has guts to hold Joseph accountable? 1
Doesn’t matter. Nothing sticks to the Teflon Joseph 1
If Central Office can’t do math, how can our kids? 1
I doubt that anything will change. 1
It’s about time! How many more C & I salaries will they add? 1
Make sure interviews are conducted because $ can be hid … 1
Even if it shows misuse by the administrators – so what? nothing will happen.

Question 3 asked for your opinion on the recent student walkouts over gun violence in schools. 32% of you wished adults would stay out of it, and after that, responses were evenly split between whether it made a difference or not. This one had a lot of write-in votes. Here they are:

Respectfully done and student organized at Overton 1
Just wait until these kids are old enough to vote. Democracy at its finest. 1
Hated that 1 parent out of 632 at my school had to complain and sign her children 1
Students should lead it with adult mentors it’s a powerful learning opportunity 1
Very proud of the students and faculty and staff across the city. 1
Proud of our kids. 1
Weak. 1
Not enough of them 1
A joke 1
Ineffective b/c majority of students did not understand the issues. 1
We had a 17 min. fire drill *eye roll* 1
One was a train wreck, others seemed great. 1
Love the intent but not appropriate at school 1
I am okay with them as long as students knew why they were walking out. 1
Ridiculous that mnps encouraged it.

There ya go. Another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

TIGHTENING BONDS WITH THE TRUTH

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After Tuesday’s board meeting, I originally meant to write a post on Wednesday. I intended to call the piece “Lies my Superintendent told me.” But, as so often happens, events kept unfolding, making the title and the piece feel a little dated. It’s been a wild week, but in my opinion, a necessary week and one that ultimately will make MNPS better.

LEADERSHIP AND SELF-DECEPTION

I used to bartend at a place down on the rock block. Happy hour at my bar was a little different from most places. I never adhered to the rule that politics and religion don’t belong in a bar. It was not uncommon for a patron to order a drink amid the backdrop of a spirited discussion on the sanctity of the Second Amendment or the failings of Christianity. It was all fair game as long as civility was maintained, and for the most part, it was maintained.

There used to be one gentleman who was a regular and would participate in the discussions. His modus operandi was to state an opinion in a serious factual manner while offering little evidence of veracity. Finally, I called him on it. “You can’t just say something in a serious voice with a serious face and just expect it to be accepted as fact. From now on when you try to do that, I’m going to throw this flag, and once thrown, you’ll be required to offer evidence to support your assertion. If you can’t, you don’t get to participate in the conversation anymore. We’ll call it the Chuck Flag.”

In the ensuing months, the flag was thrown often. Sometimes he could offer evidence, sometimes he couldn’t. But with the specter of the Chuck Flag looming, the conversations improved. After this week, we might need to create a Dr. J Flag (It’s got to have a catchy name, right?).

In the age of Google, I am always baffled when politicians lie about things that are easily verified with a simple keystroke. Yet time after time, politicians, from Donald Trump on down to MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, commit the offense and then bristle when challenged. This week, it was Dr. Joseph’s turn to step to the pulpit.

On Monday night, Phil Williams aired a story on Channel 5 that centered on a recording of MNPS’s head of facilities discussing bypassing the warning lights on water filters designed to protect kids from lead in the water. The story was picked up and the CBS Morning show did a report on Tuesday. Amid the furor, Joseph released a statement via a tweet accompanied by the claim that “For the past two years, we have been proactively working to make sure our drinking water is below the recommended guidelines set by the EPA. Our goal as a school district is to ensure that our schools’ drinking water is safe.”

The lead in the water issue is an intensely personal one for me, as my kids attend, and my wife teaches at, an impacted school. I really have to strive to divorce emotion from the equation when it comes to this subject or it becomes impossible for me to have a civil conversation. In his tweet, Joseph claims to be working proactively to ensure drinking water quality. Google “lead in MNPS school drinking water” and you’ll discover that yes, MNPS was proactive in testing the water, but they’ve dragged their feet in addressing the issue since testing. They were perfectly happy to keep levels under 15 parts per billion (ppb) until the Metro Health Department applied pressure.

MNPS is so proud of the fact that they voluntarily tested their water, that they offer it as a defense against inaction. It’s like me being proud because I proactively got tested for diabetes but I never changed my lifestyle after being tested. You wouldn’t be impressed if I loudly proclaimed from the couch while eating a bowl of pasta that I had taken the test and might cut out Cokes and exercise once a week. It’s not going to make a bit of difference, and that’s akin to MNPS’s initial stance on lead in the water. Thank god Phil Williams has kept the pressure on.

Dr. Joseph refers to “EPA guidelines” in his statement. In the past, the district has evoked “EPA standards.” Through the use of those words, the impression is given that the EPA sets a level of safety. That is a falsehood. 15 ppb is an “action level.” The EPA recommends that any readings over 15 ppb require drastic action. They DO NOT say anything below that is safe. There are no safe levels of lead in drinking water. To imply anything different is either ignorant, disingenuous, or both.

Dr. Joseph is fond of evoking the tenet of “equity.” But here is an example of inequity modeled by our very own district leader. When a service is failed to be provided to a middle-class school like West End Middle, and I’m not discounting the challenges they face, he leaps to action by scheduling a meeting at the school, calling the PTO president, and the parent involved in the news story. Meanwhile, over on the southeast side of town, two schools that are made up primarily of English language learners and impoverished kids are just as deeply affected, but nary a sentence is directed their way.

Truth is, the district’s “proactive efforts” have never, other than a brief error-ridden presentation last year by CFO Chris Henson, been fully vetted on the board floor. District leadership seems to be employing a Beetlejuice strategy here: Don’t utter the words and the issue won’t appear. Fortunately, Board member Amy Frogge has indicated that such a strategy is not working for her, and she wants a full discussion on the board floor. Props to her.

The uncomfortable relationship with the truth continued Tuesday night at the MNPS School Board’s budget finance committee meeting. Frogge, along with fellow board members Anna Shepherd and Jill Speering, voiced grave concerns over the district’s financial management and how it’s impacting the upcoming budget. In response, Dr. Joseph served up several statements worthy of a Dr. J Flag:

  • “Budget freeze – we did one last year.” Huh? No we didn’t. There was no budget freeze last year. Interestingly enough, there was a budget review and travel freeze put in place in November in response to questions about the district leadership’s spending habits. A follow-up story aired in March because despite the freeze, leadership was still traipsing around the country.
  • “We would not let any school go without paper.” That one produced a collective, “Huh??!?” from principals. Up until yesterday, all budget exception requests were being returned from central office marked denied. Many of those requests were for funds for paper. In fact, Overton HS parents felt so concerned that they created a paper drive. Joseph has stated that people have just misinterpreted the freeze, but the directive seems to have made things pretty clear to me.
  • “Never in my 22 years have I not made it to the finish line [on a budget] clear, effective, and accurate.” Simple math takes us back to the year 1996, and if I’m not mistaken, Dr. Joseph was a reading specialist at a middle school in Maryland. It wasn’t until 2009, when Dr. Joseph became Director of School Performance for Montgomery County Schools, that he was involved in a districtwide budgeting process. Joseph has only led a districtwide budgeting process three times, twice in Seaford and once here. I don’t believe anyone in Seaford would describe his second effort as being completed in a clear, effective, and accurate manner. Standing in front of the board and using your “22 years of experience” to admonish them is, again, a bit disingenuous.

I could play this game a lot longer and cite numerous other instances where our Director of Schools has played fast and loose with the truth. The fact remains that based on history and current facts, the raising of questions is not out of line. Recent events in Maryland, coupled with the following line from Joseph’s own resume and the inclusion of Dallas Dance as a member of his transition team, alone should trigger some inquiries:

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

For the record, Dance’s legal problems center around principal training programs.

I applaud school board leaders Anna Shepherd and Jill Speering in requesting a fiscal audit. District leadership has long cried that the district is underfunded. An audit will only provide an opportunity to further illuminate to what degree the district is underfunded. If everything is as Dr. Joseph portrays, the state will have no recourse other than to increase funding.

At the board meeting, Dr. Joseph, to his credit, embraced the idea of an audit. He did have some ideas on who should conduct the audit along with a warning that it could come with a multimillion dollar price tag – well, he said a million dollar price tag – which is not exactly true either.

Let’s see how this all will unfold. Hopefully at some point, district leadership will form a tighter bond with the truth, or at the very least, remember that everyone has access to Google.

WALKOUT BLUES

Wednesday, students across Tennessee participated in a national school walkout day protest. I applaud the actions of the students who participated, but question whether they may truly qualify as protest actions. In many cases, district administrators did their best to dictate how the walkouts would unfold, including where students would walkout to and how long they would remain out. Students who participated, for the most part, faced no repercussions if they chose to participate. To me, the whole exercise, while inducing pride and producing some poignant moments, felt more like a project based learning exercise than it did a protest action.

In order to be effective, protest has to involve some kind of personal risk. A participant needs to feel so strongly about what they are speaking out about that they are willing to risk any repercussions they may incur. Imagine if the day after the walkout, administrators would have had to look across empty schools and filled detention halls? Much like authorities once had to look at empty buses and full jail cells. Imagine if the images on Wednesday had been ones of students walking out in defiance of adult directives instead of peacefully packed auditoriums. If I’m an ordinary citizen and I wasn’t in that auditorium, how do I bear witness to these kids’ passion? I promise you that if I was on the street when Hume-Fogg students decided to march on the capitol, my perspective would be different.

Well-meaning adults distilled the power of these protests in the name of safety and concern. Things did get out of hand at Antioch HS, and while it may have been inexcusable, it was real. Protests can’t be managed and sometimes that leads to a discombobulated message. But they should serve as a last resort, after you’ve tried talking in a clear and concise manner, so sometimes bad behavior is inevitable. Perhaps somebody should focus not on the how, but rather the why, Antioch HS kids acted the way they did. It’s easy to write people off as “thugs.” It’s harder to understand what caused their behavior. The Antioch protests may have made us more uncomfortable than the Hume-Fogg protests. But I would argue that Malcolm X also made Martin Luther King, Jr., uncomfortable, but both were essential for change to occur. It’s all a plea for change.

As adults, we have failed to keep kids safe when it comes to violence. Look at the statistics and any counterargument becomes moot. It’s not just the mass shootings either, it’s the ever-increasing numbers of kids who are continually exposed to gun violence in their daily lives. Based on our track record, I’m not sure where we get the hubris to try to dictate how kids should try to effect change. Perhaps it’s time for us to get out of the way and let them be heard. Maybe, just maybe, they can impart real change. We owe it to them to give them a real shot.

QUICK TAKES

A while back, I told you about an MNPS coach who struck a parent who followed him into a locker room after a game. As more details have emerged, it appears that it was the coach who’s been wronged and not the parent. The White’s Creek community showed up en masse to Tuesday’s board meeting and demanded that MNPS resolve their coaches’ status as quickly as possible and clear him of wrongdoing. The district had placed Coach Carlton Battle on administrative leave after the incident pending a review. By all accounts, Battle is a reasonable and dedicated coach with a real passion for his kids. He also serves as an Assistant Principal at Whites Creek HS. For the benefit of everyone, let’s hope things get resolved quickly.

Please welcome back from maternity leave Southeast Quadrant Community Superintendent Dr. Adrienne Battle. Dr. Battle has been out on maternity leave, so congratulations are in order. Welcome back.

Congratulations are also in order for Dr. Joseph, though we are a little late in offering them. Back in December, he was elected to the Board of Trustees for Learning Forward. Learning Forward is the only professional association devoted exclusively to those who work in educator professional development. They help members leverage the power of professional learning to affect positive and lasting change.

Chief Academic Officer Monique Felder and Literacy Director Barbara Lashley are both off to Houston today to check out Pre-K literacy programs. I know, I know… but hey, I don’t write these stories, just report them.

I’m considering making up bingo cards for future school board meetings. Squares would have the words rigor, equity, transparency, strategic framework, collaboration, noise, and maybe a few others. Every time you heard one of those words, you cover the square. Anybody in? Any other suggestions? We need to remember these words aren’t “Beetlejuice.” In other words, just saying them won’t magically make them appear.

Due to the ACT testing in all MNPS high schools on March 20, high schools will not participate in the final MNPS Tour Tuesday. If you’re interested in learning more about any of the high schools, contact the school to set up a school tour.

I’m still a little unsold on the STEAM initiatives, but if it fills schools with teachers like Mr. Calderone, pictured to the left, I may have to change my opinion.

I found this story on a “Marzano School” opening up in Colorado extremely interesting. It’s a model that’s company-based, which is not new to the district but has shown limited success to date. Kids are grouped by mastery versus age. The curriculum has been designed by widely-recognized and respected education researcher Robert Marzano. Very interesting.

Vesia Hawkins has a new post celebrating a Nashville-based national literacy movementt. I consider it a must-read.

I’ve lived a lot of life since my last record,” says Scotty McCreery. “I moved out on my own, I travelled across the country and the world, I got engaged, I was even robbed at gunpoint. So I really wanted this album to show who Scotty is at 24, what’s going on in my life, and I think we accomplished that. It is my most personal album yet.” With Seasons Change, McCreery takes a huge creative step forward, co-writing all 11 songs on the album, and working with some of the finest songwriters in Nashville to express a wide range of emotions and musical styles. Check it out. Let me know what you think.

POLL QUESTIONS

I know this post is already long enough, but let’s get to the poll questions. I think they are pretty self-explanatory this week. So, in the interest of brevity, I’ll just throw them out there and let you decipher them.

There ya go. Another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

ANYBODY GOT A FLASHLIGHT?

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The Metropolitan Nashville Public School District continues its annual budget process tomorrow. Things kick off at 4pm with a budget finance committee meeting, followed at 5pm by a regularly scheduled board meeting, followed by a public comment session to hypothetically begin at 6pm. It’s a lot of activity for an endeavor that to date doesn’t have a lot of clarity. Over the weekend, I made an effort to talk with a number of people in an attempt to illuminate the process a little more.

CURRENT YEAR FINANCES

One big challenge is keeping this year’s financial questions separate from the budgeting process for next year. As has been widely reported, the district, under the guise of austerity, has locked down all spending for the remainder of the year. The root of this action, per Director of Schools Dr. Joseph himself, is the decline in enrollment of students in MNPS. This under-enrollment has translated into a $7.5 million dollar shortfall for MNPS in this year’s remaining budget.

While $7.5 million in its own right is a daunting number, taken in the context of an overall budget of nearly $900 million, it is minuscule. Many have questioned MNPS’s reaction and have openly wondered if it’s not a bit of an overreaction. Surely the district has enough money stuffed in a coffee can somewhere that it can absorb the loss.

When locking down schools’ individual budgets, district officials informed principals that they would be able to apply for an exemption. Word over the weekend was that the majority of those requests were coming back denied. The message of depleted funding wasn’t just being sent internally either; business partners were also receiving the message that MNPS was out of money until the end of the year. Needless to say, the district’s actions have had an alarming effect on people.

It didn’t help optics that right in the middle of all this uneasiness and unrest, Dr. Joseph and school board chair Anna Shepherd headed to Seattle for a previously scheduled Rotary Club trip. A trip that saw Dr. Joseph presenting to a panel on building a deeper talent pool. It is not clear where the money from this trip was pulled from, but it certainly emitted a certain Qu’ils mangent de la brioche quality.

Many people questioned why MNPS was unaware of this pending enrollment shortage. Funding from the state is dependent on 20-day counts that begin 20 days after school starts and continue throughout the year. Surely it should have become apparent fairly quickly that the district wasn’t going to meet its projections. Why were adjustments not made at that time? Turns out they were.

During the first week of September, principals whose schools showed a lower enrollment than projected received an email from the district office informing them that as part of the fall budget adjustment process, their general funds were being decreased to account for the shortage in enrollment. Principals were further instructed on guidelines for reduction of staff if necessitated by the decreased funding.

Since the lower enrollment numbers had already been accounted for back in the fall, the question now arises, why the crisis? Where was the money removed from individual school’s accounts in the fall reallocated? Why didn’t Dr. Joseph, in his email or in communications with the press, ever acknowledge that the district was aware that they were not going to meet projections and as a result had already made adjustments?

That brings us to the second part of the equation and an area where I’m probably going to raise some hackles, but I think it is an important place to train our flashlights.

NEXT YEAR’S BUDGET

The MNPS School Board and public school activists have long raised the issue of the state of Tennessee’s failure to adequately fund public education. And they are correct. Board Member Amy Frogge recently wrote a solid Facebook post outlining the importance of proper funding and the Tennessee Ed Report has long chronicled the state’s failure to meet its obligations. This is a fact beyond dispute.

However, it’s also a narrative that benefits Dr. Joseph. In a year where the tea leaves are indicating that Nashville’s Metro Council, who ultimately controls the MNPS budget, has little inclination to increase the district’s budget, exploiting a crisis may just be a winning play. Veteran lobbyists and activists will testify that nothing changes politicians’ minds like outraged constituents. Get ’em emailing and calling, and politicians’ minds suddenly start a-changing.

Dr. Joseph isn’t the only one to potentially benefit from an increase in funding. Also on tomorrow’s school board agenda is the pending ratification of a recently-negotiated memorandum of understanding between MNEA and the district. The MOU calls for a much-deserved raise in exceptional education pay and professional development pay, as well as an overall raise for teachers. It will be very difficult for Joseph to deliver on those promises without an increase in the budget. And he’s definitely looking to deliver.

A quick look at the district’s budget page shows the following:

“To begin to address the findings of that analysis would require a 4.5 percent increase in the district’s pay scales at an estimated cost of $25.4 million.  This amount includes a step increase for eligible staff. Improving salaries for all employees is a long-term endeavor that will take multiple years and strong partnership with city leaders and Metro Council.”

The cynic in me says that if the union can turn out enough people to apply pressure to Metro Council over the underfunding of schools and inspire them to raise the budget say… by $100 million, Joseph would be happy to turn over $25.4 million to teachers. That still leaves plenty of cash for friends and cronies… I mean educational experts and vendors.

If the increase is only half of that, well, a 2.5% raise and a promise for more is better than a sharp stick in the eye. If there is no increase, well, the state and Metro Council make perfect foils, and we all know Joseph loves a fall guy. Make enough noise and any outcome virtually assures a win for Joseph and the union.

I don’t necessarily fault the union for being complicit in this strategy. Their number one priority is, and should be, teachers. Teachers who deserve a contract and increased support. Happier and better supported teachers produce better educated students. That is an indisputable fact.

Further muddying up the waters are some disturbing rumors that have begun to reach my ears. Word on the street is that Joseph is reaching out to individual school board members and attempting to make the proposed budget a little more palpable by sweetening their individual district’s pot. I don’t know how much truth there is to those rumors, but if proven to be true, no one should be surprised. After all, it is politics. But it is one of the reasons I bristle so much when people pay lip service to the idea of equity.

Strangely still missing from the conversation is the proposed budget for central office. Anybody who shows up to speak tomorrow most likely will do so without ample time to analyze that portion of the budget. Early rumors indicated that this area would include more positions, higher salaries, and an overall increase in expenditures. Without actual numbers, all that’s left is speculation.

I urge those who show up to speak tomorrow, and those who contact board members and council members by email or phone, to demand increased funding, but also demand increased fiscal accountability. If our individual household budgets suddenly get out whack, we don’t just infuse more cash and move on. We evaluate our spending. We look at areas where we can make cuts and areas where we can be more efficient. Asking the district to do the same is a perfectly reasonable request.

Nashville is not unique in the funding issues it faces. Look at Seattle, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas. All are facing a superintendent vacancy and many of the same issues as Nashville is facing. These districts were somewhat caught by surprise over their budget situations. Is that a place that Nashville wants to find itself in? I’m not suggesting that Dr. Joseph is leaving anytime soon, but two months ago, how many of us thought Nashville would be looking for a new mayor?

As a side note, after researching the aforementioned districts, and scrutinizing other district’s recent hires, I can’t help but conclude that there is a dearth of talent when it comes to superintendents for large urban districts. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, considering that there is an ongoing teacher shortage. Further compounding the superintendent problem is the fact that most of the newer candidates are somehow connected to the Broad Superintendent Academy, which has not done a good job of preparing candidates to be effective leaders. Critics warned about this trend years ago and now I think we’re seeing its fruition.

Russians have a saying that I think applies here, “Доверяй, но проверяй” – Trust but verify. We need to trust that district leaders are doing what’s best for Nashville students, but there can be no harm in verifying that trust is well-placed. In fact, I would argue that we owe it to students and their families.

Please, if you attend upcoming budget meetings, demand more resources, but also demand that we account for the ones already allocated. Our schools need more funding. Funding for teacher salaries, para-pros, substitutes, SEL implementation, capital needs, and more. We don’t need more funding for scripted curriculum, the wholesale turnover of middle schools to STEAM schools, and the hiring of people to do the work that we can do better in-house. In light of all of this, I urge you to ask the powers-that-be to shine a light into the corners of the budget. It’s essential if we are going to protect our public schools.

QUICK NOTES

Remember back in January when state legislators said vouchers were off the table this year? Well, their lips were moving and you know what that means. This week there is not one, but two bills coming up that involve vouchers. As always, TREE is out in front on the issue. Get those dialing and emailing fingers warmed up.

A few props are probably deserved for MNPS this morning. The 2-hour delay was the right call for today. I wish they would have made the call earlier because I don’t believe that a call at 10:16pm adequately accounts for our EL and impoverished student families’ needs, but I appreciate that they made the right call. Many of our lower socio-economic families lack access to what many would consider basic communication methods. When your phone gets shut off regularly, or you move a whole bunch, it is difficult for you to maintain current contact information with the district.

Employment conditions also need considerations. Most of our poorer families have jobs that leave little flexibility when it comes to attendance. Being late translates into a minimum of a lost day of wages and possibly termination. Arranging day care for the day is easier than finding someone to watch for two hours and then coordinate with getting students to school. I wonder how many of these kids just stayed home instead of navigating the delay. For these reasons and more, I urge the district to improve its notification system.

Word on the street is that the MNPS Executive Director of Facilities and Grounds Maintenance is now on administrative leave. Seems as if he wasn’t a fan of those water filters parents wanted installed in schools. He probably shouldn’t be the only one placed on leave, but it doesn’t seem like the investigation into lead in schools’ drinking water is done, so we’ll see. Check out the News Channel 5 story for yourself.

(Tulip Grove ES staff)

I guess this is National Public Schools Week, but then again every week is public school week for me. I urge all of you to continue to support our great public schools. They serve as pillars of our democracy.

Celebrating the reading of books at Tulip Grove Elementary School! What a joyful picture. Reading rocks!

The ACT is right around the corner! Visit ACT.org to find resources to help you prepare for the test on March 20: http://bit.ly/2FGBxgg

I am currently reading Jazz saxophonist Art Peppers autobiography Straight Life. If you thought rock and roll was wild, check out how the Jazz greats lived.

POLL RESULTS

Exceptional response to this week’s poll results. Thank you and let’s review.

The first question asked how you felt about Dr. Joseph’s proposed plan to redistribute Title I funds. To say you didn’t approve would be an understatement. 34% of you responded that it made you angry, and 25% of you voiced that favoring one group of students over another just increased inequity. Out of 151 responses, only 6 of you felt the new plan promoted equity.

As a parent of children who have attended a high-needs school for the last 4 years, I have a bit of an idea on the inequities our children face. Just devoting more money to a school doesn’t make things equitable. You might be shocked to find out just how much money our priority schools already have. The inequities derive more from experiences. Do science and social studies get sacrificed in order to focus on reading and math? Do kids receive a robust arts education? Are expectations raised to a level appropriate for kids or to one that meets adult-created KPI’s? Do students have regular access to professionals in the business community? Those, in my opinion, are just a few of the questions that need to be raised when it come to discussing equity. A conversation that is long overdue.

Here are the write-ins:

more bad ideas from Dr. Joseph and ‘team’ 1
There are poor students in non-title I schools 1
We don’t have enough information to understand the redistribution. 1
Can’t really know w/o the plan to use the funds 1
Joseph is creating a racial divide 1
It infuriates me and my school isn’t even title 1. 1
Why is Dr. Joseph hiring people? Mo’s position 1
Where’s the central office budget in all this info??? 1
Making PTSOs make up the shortfall of federal dollars is not equity.

Question two asked if you think Nashville has made strides when it comes to equity. Unfortunately, 51% of you feel that we’ve made backward strides. Out of 134 responses, only 4 of you feel that things have gotten more equitable. I’ll just let that sit there. After 2 years with Dr. Joseph at the helm, only 4 people out of 135 respondents feel that we’ve improved equity. I find that extremely disturbing.

Here are the write-ins:

Rob Peter to pay Paul. Unfair! 1
Having to prioritize equity bc of wealth inequity 1
Joseph is making charters look good. At least we take our money with us. 1
Look at Karen Gallman’s pay scale-is that equity 1
Don’t know. 1
From decades ago yes. This new plan no, just no 1
The problems in HS with $$$ are less $ per pupil but equity in business partners 1
Not in advanced academics, which it wants to defund 1
How are we defining equity? MNPS leaders don’t seem to be cogent on definition.

The last question was in regards to your perception of the quality of school districts surrounding Nashville. The reason I ask is because one of the reasons given for MNPS’s recent decline in enrollment is the attractiveness of other counties’ school districts. Not surprisingly, Williamson led the votes with 51% of the vote. But Rutherford, Sumner, and Wilson counties all pulled double-digit responses. We’ll keep watching this one.

Here are the write-ins:

Retirement! 1
Biggest correlation to “good” schools is SES 1
shelby, not 1
I’ve been told they are all more respectful of teachers than MNPS. 1
Any system not run by folks from Maryland 1
Dr. Joseph is robbing us blind 1
Ultimately it depends on “attractive.” To whom? In what way? 1
Doesn’t matter to me. I’m too old to start over. 1
Is Connecticut too far away? 1
No freakin idea 1
I have no idea 1
Moot point. 1
Wilson

There ya go. Another one in the bag. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

IS IT REALLY EQUITABLE?

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A legend tells of a French monastery known throughout Europe for the extraordinary leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks began a pilgrimage to visit Brother Leo to learn from him. Almost immediately, they began to bicker about who should do various chores.

On the third day they met another monk going to the monastery, and he joined them. This monk never complained or shirked a duty, and whenever the others would fight over a chore, he would gracefully volunteer and do it himself. By the last day, the others were following his example, and from then on they worked together smoothly.

When they reached the monastery and asked to see Brother Leo, the man who greeted them laughed.

‘But our brother is among you!’ And he pointed to the fellow who had joined them.

(Director of Schools moderates a panel at Seattle conference)

The just-related story should be one of special relevance to the current leadership of Metro Nashville Public Schools. I’d be willing to bet that Brother Leo would not announce a districtwide budget freeze to principals and then hop on an airplane to Seattle to moderate a panel on building a talent pool like MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph did. I hope the irony is not lost on you because it certainly isn’t lost on me. I’d love to see an explanation of how this trip aligns with the district’s strategic framework.

The district memo released this week informed principals that “This freeze will include all school purchases that fall into the budget category of non-staff expenses (software, supplies, transportation, field trips, IT purchases, equipment, etc.).” Several principals have confirmed that their requests for expenditures have been already been denied despite the district saying they could apply for exemptions. Some of those requested expenditures included things like paper and basic schools supplies… you know, the necessities.

The reasoning behind this drastic move is purportedly the loss of $7.5 million in state funding. Which to me, feels a whole lot like cutting off your leg because you stubbed your toe. The reaction is just not proportionate to the loss, unless there is something else at play.

The move comes in the midst of the budgeting process for next year. A process that has already produced its fair share of drama. Some speculate that the freeze is an attempt to drive parents and community members towards city council members with the narrative of underfunded schools. The desired outcome would be to paint a picture of a district so woefully underfunded that the loss of a mere $7.5 million is enough to throw the whole school district into a catastrophic tailspin.

That’s a feasible assumption, save for a few caveats. The first being, and I don’t know how else to say this but bluntly, I have yet to see evidence that district leadership is capable of executing day-to-day activities in a competent manner, so to ascribe to them the ability to develop a hidden agenda is a bit of a stretch for me.

Secondly, surely Joseph and company do not believe that our city council members are gullible enough to fall for such a parlor trick. I know that he has spent woefully little time in developing relationships with any city leaders other than ex-mayor Megan Barry, but I can assure Joseph that there are some astute financial minds amid that body. They are not just going to write a check without asking some hard questions. Councilman Freddie O’Connell and Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher are already tuning up the band. That shouldn’t be seen as a lack of support, but rather one of ensuring the district gets it right. If resources are not utilized wisely, kids suffer.

Lastly, I find it hard to believe that a professional educator would knowingly keep resources out of the hands of children just to drive an agenda. Maybe I’m being gullible, but I still feel most of us put the needs of children first, and therefore want to extend the benefit of doubt to Joseph and his team.

Whatever the reasoning behind the freeze, I think it’s safe to say that principals ain’t happy. Especially because things are equally tumultuous in regards to next year’s budget. The proposed redistribution of Title I funds is resulting in several schools facing severe budget cuts.

Dr. Joseph argues that he is making the change due to equity concerns, even going as far to tweet out a graphic illustrating his vision of equity. Interesting opinion of Nashville he’s depicting here.

But let’s look at some numbers, and you tell me where the equity is.

Charlotte Park ES has 403 students and 183 receive direct services. Dupont ES has 361 with 188 receiving DS. In the new budget, Dupont will receive $244,412. Charlotte Park will receive nothing. However, if the formula from 2 years ago was still applied, Charlotte Park would receive $80,154, while Dupont would get $93,624.

Now you may be saying, “Yeah, but by giving one school the more substantial amount, we can make more of a difference.” Okay, how about I come to you and say, “Look we both have $10, so all we can get is a hamburger. Give me your $10, though, and I can get a steak. Somebody’ll come along and feed you.” Are you going to leap at that proposal?

Let’s compare two middle schools. Isaac Litton MS has 498 kids with 206 receiving direct services. East MS has 433 and 218 receive direct services. East is slated to get $283,388 in Title I funds in 2019, while Isaac Litton gets a big zero. Under the formula from 2 years ago, East would get $105,948, and Isaac Litton would receive $81,576.

Let’s look at a high school. Overton has 2,029 students with 883 of them receiving direct services. Stratford has 1,105 with 768 students getting direct services. Stratford, under the new formula, will receive $897,260, and Overton will receive nothing. In fact, Overton will lose $721,764. Under the formula from 2 years ago, Overton would get $370,860, and Stratford would get $460,800. It feels like to me that in regards to equity, much like academic performance, we are moving in the wrong direction.

Maybe the argument is that by giving the schools with a higher percentage of Title I funds more money, you can make those schools more attractive to higher income families. That’s a little bit of social engineering whose outcomes can’t be guaranteed and fails to address the needs of today’s students.

Riddle me this, what are those high-needs schools going to use the extra funding for? Is the awarding of extra resources alone enough to create equity? I’ve yet to see a plan that outlines how those extra resources will be utilized. The go-to plan for the last two years has been to designate resources, hire an executive, and then have that executive hire an outside entity to do the work under the guise of lack of capacity. That’s been the plan for home visits, procuring substitutes, training teachers, writing curriculum, literacy, and even creating budgets.

The most unpalatable part of this process to me is the Hunger Games-like atmosphere that is created. I just devoted 3 paragraphs depicting the merits of one group of kids versus another group of kids. We are asking principals to argue that their kids are more deserving than other principal’s kids. We should find that nauseating. These are supposed to be all of our kids. Any proposal that suggests a vision otherwise should be soundly rejected by all of us.

Parents have begun to raise questions about what sacrifices are being made at central office. Rumors were circulating early in the week about an increase in central office expenditures by almost $8 million. District leadership said that was incorrect and blamed a clerical error as the foundation for that mistaken assumption. To date, no figures for central office have been presented. I presume they will emerge at Tuesday’s meeting, but it’s hard to speak on things that haven’t been seen.

That is part of another element that is making the process more difficult – the district’s inability to provide accurate numbers for the budget. Figures are continually shifting. I know that often happens with budgets, but the current figures should remain constant with only the projections changing. That’s not happening. Errors are routinely pointed out by principals, parents, and community members. Sheets are presented and then proclaimed outdated with no notice.

Leadership is about creating a narrative and then offering factual information to support that narrative. Here we have a process that has been ongoing for two weeks and is continually searching for a narrative to emerge. So far, the only consistent element has been that of equity. Is that enough of an element to hang a school budget on? Shouldn’t there be more? Shouldn’t the district be driving the narrative instead of waiting for the community to write it?

As a parent of children in a high-needs school, I welcome a conversation centered around equity. That conversation has to start with a definition, though, in order for us all to be on the same page. If Dr. Joseph aspires to lead that conversation, he needs to aspire to be more like Brother Leo. Be one among us instead of lecturing us on what we should become.

The next chance for people to chime in on the budget comes on Tuesday at the school board meeting. Things get started at 4 PM with a committee meeting and then will go on for a while from there. If you can show up, please do and wear red to offer support to our teachers who are seeking the ratification on a recently-agreed upon MOU at the same meeting.

QUICK HITS

Looking at Tuesday’s school board agenda, I spy a number of speakers from the White’s Creek HS boys basketball team. I can’t help but wonder if that’s connected to basketball coach Carlton Battle striking a parent at a recent game. It should prove interesting. And yes, he’s related to that Battle. He’s her brother.

Remember when we were telling everyone that Dr. Joseph’s transition team was made up of the best and brightest minds in the country? Well one of those stars has dimmed. This week found former Baltimore Superintendent of Schools Dallas Dance in a courthouse pleading guilty to perjury charges related to him not declaring $147K he’d received from outside consultants. Dance was facing 40 years in the yard, but will probably only serve 18 months due to his plea. His new accommodations should prove less comfortable than the ones provided at the Omni Hotel by MNPS.

I wonder why the Tennessee Achievement School District even pretends to be anything but a state-sponsored charter authorizer. This week, they released the list of candidates to become the next superintendent of the ASD. Shockingly, all 4 candidates have extensive experience with charter schools. It makes it hard to have a different conversation about charter schools when the state continues to act in such a disingenuous manner.

Remember back a couple of months ago at the school board meeting where then-Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle presented on the plan to move 5th graders back to elementary school? The board balked at the associated costs, and Ms. Carlisle asked, for clarification purposes, did this mean they did not want to proceed with the idea? The board then nixed the idea of moving forward with the idea. Apparently there wasn’t enough clarity because next year, Cane Ridge ES will be piloting 5th graders in elementary schools.

The final two installments of Parent University are coming up. This an excellent opportunity for parents and community members to learn more about how schools function.

Along those same lines, I would like to take a moment to give a tip of the hat to the leaders of the Overton Cluster schools. Back in the fall, Abby Trotter and I took on the task of unofficially reactivating the Overton Cluster PAC while the district figured out their direction.

Right from the beginning, cluster leadership, as well as Southwest Quadrant Superintendent Dottie Critchlow, lent their support. At the meeting this past week, we had representation from every school in the cluster. To say I was blown away is an understatement. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the administrators of the Overton Cluster for their support and willingness to sacrifice even more of their precious time. We can only go up from here.

Hermitage Elementary School students had a very special guest come read to them, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen! Pretty darn cool.

Reminder: Friday, March 16, will now be an instructional day. Students will attend school that day to make up for an inclement weather day used in January.

Make sure you check out Vesia Hawkins latest take on budget issues out today.

Supporters of Pre-K are collecting signatures for a petition asking for the district to fund universal Pre-K. Please sign.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to read the graphic novels March: Book 1 and Book 2, you are missing out. Graphic novels ain’t just about The Walking Dead.

Psssst… I know you don’t want people to know, but I know you are excited about a new release today from Judas Priest. Breaking the law. Breaking the law.

Here’s the latest rumor that I’ve heard that I hope is true. The EDDSI’s were scheduled to take an upcoming trip to Virginia. In light of the recently announced travel freeze, they politely declined to take the trip. Now that’s a little Brother Leo for ya.

POLL QUESTIONS

Time for this week’s poll questions.

Obviously, the first one will be on the proposed formula for the redistribution of Title I funds. What do you think?

Secondly, let’s get a little harder with the questions this week. We spend a lot of time talking about equity, but has the district actually become more equitable? What do you think?

Lastly, if you could be tempted to leave MNPS, which surrounding county’s school system do you find the most tempting? That’s for both students and educators. I ask because there has been talk around the budget that attributes declining enrollment to people moving outside of the district. In essence, I’m trying to get a feel for where people might be going.

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

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well.

 

 

 

BUDGET, BUDGET, WHO’S GOT THE BUDGET?

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For about two weeks now, when district leadership announced that as part of the impending budget process they were going to change the formula for Title I distribution, I have been deeply immersed in learning about how our school budgets are derived. It’s an extremely complex process and, to our credit, it is very different than how most districts do it. At MNPS, there is more money that actually follows the student than in any other district in the country. We should be very proud of that fact.

Digging through all the budget information that I could lay my hands on, some of which isn’t intended for public consumption, and I must admit, I still can’t make sense out of the strategy. However, I do have enough of a grasp to raise some questions and concerns that I think are warranted. That’s why I decide to clog up y’all’s social media feeds with another one of my missives today. This really isn’t what I intended to write. I was actually trying to put together a piece that was nothing but pictures from Read To Me Week, but that’s going to have to wait. So without further ado, here are my budget musings.

The first thing that needs to be done is the separation of this year’s 7.5 million dollar shortfall and next year’s budget. They are two different and separate issues, but are being lumped together. The loss of $7.5 million – or rather, that it’s missing – derives from a drop of enrollment in MNPS. This is troubling, but on its own, not a huge deal. It is not uncommon for enrollment predictions not to match up with actual numbers. The size of the discrepancy here is a little concerning, but let’s give the benefit of the doubt and say it’s due to the size of the district. There are still a couple of questions that should arise from this situation.

The first question is why this shortfall wasn’t identified and adjusted for at an earlier date. Some of you may not be familiar with how the state funding process works. Each student is assigned a dollar value by the state. Every 20 days, the district submits a count to the state, on which funding is based. Twice a year, the state cuts a check. So, I’m curious why this shortfall, or potential shortfall, wasn’t spotted in October. Or November. Or December. Finding it in February is a little curious. Unless people were just ignoring it until February when they went out to the mailbox looking for a check and the mailbox was bare so then questions arose.

The second question arises from the size of the shortfall. I say “$7.5 million” to you and your eyes get wide. But if I put that $7.5 million next to $900 million, it ain’t so eye-widening. What I’m saying is, we should be concerned, but does this warrant a crisis-like reaction? And that’s how the district has reacted. A hiring and traveling freeze has been imposed. Individual school budgets – monies that have been pre-approved and are part of this year’s budget – if not already spent, are required to be resubmitted for approval.

Andy Spears over at the Tennessee Education Report puts the numbers in the perspective of our personal households. If your household budget was $100k – I know that’s on the high side, but the MNPS budget ain’t chump change – then the $7.5 million would equate to $850. Now, continuing with that model, what’s happened here is akin to me coming home in February and telling my wife that our family budget is $850 short, and therefore we are going to have to cancel all family trips and the kids’ extracurricular activities, and we are going to have to review all other family budget items on a line-by-line case.

The first thing my wife would do is ask me if I started drinking again. Once she was convinced that I hadn’t, she would probably ask why we are $850 short. I would answer, “Well, back in September I thought I was going to work a few more hours than I actually worked. The OT just wasn’t there.” My wife’s response might be something like, “Well if you knew the OT wasn’t going to be there, why didn’t we start making adjustments then?” And I don’t know how I’d answer that question.

After that got hashed out, she’d probably still be irritated, but her next statement would be along the lines of, “Well that certainly is inopportune, but surely we have money to cover an $850 shortfall. Why are we going into crisis mode over such a minuscule number? Unless there is something else you are not telling me.” And that’s my question. When it comes to MNPS and this year’s budget, what else are you not telling us?

Now, on to next year’s budget. I’m not going to criticize the time that yesterday’s budget meeting was held. It was a committee meeting that’s been held at 4pm and under-advertised all year. I will say that I do take exception to the moving of the brunt of the board’s work to committee meetings that are not advertised as publicly as general meetings, not televised, and usually held at times that are inconvenient to parents. Transparency is like equity – just saying the word doesn’t magically make it exist.

In looking through all the materials provided by MNPS, and listening to Dr. Joseph’s narrative, there are some things I question. Some things that need clarification.

Last night, Dr. Gentry was kind enough to lecture the other members of the school board about equity. Pointing out that at a board retreat in New Orleans, all board members agreed that equity was an important element. She admonished her fellow board members that now that “equity” is being implemented, y’all can’t complain. Fair enough, but if equity was the issue, where was her voice last year when Dr. Joseph changed the Title I formula to one that was less equitable than in previous years? Why is she not raising questions about funding allocations to Napier ES and Park ES?

Two years ago, the MNPS Title I distribution formula was $600 per student times the percentage of kids who were considered direct services certified (DCS) times the number of students at the school who were DCS. Dr. Joseph didn’t think that was equitable and changed the formula to a flat number of $492. That translated into a school with relatively low numbers getting a substantial raise and those with higher DCS numbers getting a smaller raise or decrease. For example, if you were a school with 55% DCS, you went from getting roughly $320 per student to $492 per student. That is a $172 raise per student. Whereas if you had a 80% poverty rate, you actually lost $12 a kid. Where was the righteous indignation at that time? I would argue that Joseph’s proposed change in Title I allocations this year is merely a solution to a problem he created last year.

The argument is presented that the number of MNPS schools on the priority list is predicted to grow this year and that we need to give those schools more resources because they are also extreme poverty schools. Everybody nods, and says “That’s the fair thing to do.” But nobody asks, “Why’s that list growing? Why are more schools heading towards the priority list?” When the list grew under Dr. Register, we dragged him out to the parking lot and nailed him to the cross. In this case, despite this administration having been here for two years, we award those schools with more money and call it equity.

I’ll be honest with you, the best thing that happened to my kids’ school, Tusculum ES, is not getting off the cusp list. We fell short by .10 and we were all heartbroken. In hindsight, thank God we did fall short. Because we have a bunch of cash that we most likely would have lost if we’d actually gotten off the list. Help me out here, I can’t find that definition of “equity” in my dictionary.

Shouldn’t we be having a major conversation about WHY more MNPS schools are ending up on the state’s underperforming school list? I’m constantly reminded that our initiatives align with the district’s strategic framework. Part of that framework is the stated vision:

Metro Nashville Public Schools will be the fastest-improving urban school system in America, ensuring that every student becomes a life-long learner prepared for success in college, career, and life.

If, after two years, we have more schools heading to the state’s underperforming list, how are we meeting that vision? How does that align with the strategic framework? It’s not enough to just give schools more resources; we have to ask what are those schools going to use the extra money on that will move the needle? We also need to take into account what services the district already provides to priority schools that aren’t part of their school-based budget.

For example, we pay just under $100k for a company called Concentric Education Solutions to make home visits to families in 4 of our priority schools. Is that part of central services’ budget? Or those 4 schools’ budgets? Where does it fall, and is it not an extra service provided to those students with the greatest needs? Have the services of Concentric impacted the performance of students? We pay another outside service to provide subs for some of our hard-to-staff schools? Where is that money accounted for in the budget and how successful has it been? Those are not the only two outside vendors we utilize. The answers to those questions needs to be part of the equation.

I’m not saying that there are not reasons beyond an individual school’s scope that relate to their underperforming. I’ve long been a critic of the grading and ranking of schools and would not be opposed to the state priority list going away completely. Lord knows their solutions have been abysmal failures. But performance has to be part of the equation.

Missing from yesterday’s conversation as well, was central office expenditures. Next year, the budget for Central Office is scheduled to be $315,765,900, or $4306 per pupil. For ease of calculations, I calculated the percentage based on next year’s budget slightly growing to $900,000,000 and it translates to centralized services accounting for 35% of the budget. Leadership and management is slated to be budgeted for $51,462,000, or $702 per student. That’s an increase of roughly $8 million. Are those numbers out of line? I don’t know, but I sure would like to hear how they line up with the strategic framework and promote equity.

Another missing ingredient in yesterday’s conversation is grant money and Title II money that goes to individual schools. Looking through last year’s individual school budgets, I see schools receive as little as $25K to an extra $500k. I’m not going to call out individual schools, because let’s face it, every school needs every dime and every resource they can get. But these additional monies should be part of the funding conversation in order to get an accurate picture of equity.

I’m also concerned about the message being sent by only allocating Title I funds to those schools with extreme levels of poverty. Are we not in some ways punishing kids for not going to a school with their peers? Do we run the risk of communicating to kids that we only recognize their needs if they stay among the most needy? I don’t know. Again, it needs to be part of the conversation.

There has been an attempt to paint both the state and charter schools as being culpable for the budgetary shortfall. The state certainly deserves some blame. Tennessee woefully underfunds its schools, and that needs to change ASAP.

If charter schools’ populations are continuing to grow, and therefore they’re eating up the majority of new revenues, then we need to have a conversation about why. You can’t argue that the district is losing school-age children at the same time that you argue charter school attendance rolls are growing. If that is indeed happening, it’s because something is happening in those charter schools that is not happening in our traditional schools, and we owe it to our kids to figure out what it is.

I don’t have all the answers on the budget, but I think we need to ask more questions. I would encourage parents to contact school board members and district officials. Let them know your feelings and demand a meeting be held at a time that is convenient for parents. New Nashville Mayor David Briley has already announced his plans to hold a series of town hall meetings. Surely the district is capable of taking similar action.

This budget may be the most equitable budget that can be arrived at based on outside circumstances. I don’t know, and we won’t know unless we ask more questions. At the very least, asking more questions will mean getting an idea of where energies need to be applied most by advocates. Without a wider conversation, we will never know. We need to demand a more transparent accounting of how the district is utilizing their resources and how they plan to manage them in the future.

If you can, please show up next week at the boardroom on Tuesday. The board meeting is at 5 PM with public comment on the budget to follow. If for nothing else, show up to learn more about the budget process and to support our teachers, who are looking for the ratification of a previously agreed upon MOU that is being held up over budgetary considerations. If you come, please wear red. It’s been often said that educating children is the most important thing a community does. Now is the time to live that mantra. We got to get this budget right.

THESE FEET WERE MADE FOR WALKING

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I’m going to start off with some disclaimers before we get rolling this week. First, in a recent blog post, I cited the per-pupil Title I allocation by MNPS as being $485 when it is actually $491. That number is set by the district. Secondly, I’m probably going to say a few things is this blog post that might ruffle some feathers. That’s not my intention; I just feel pretty strongly about some points that I think really need to be made. Lastly, there is a chance I could drop a few off-color words in this update. I know, it’s bad form to swear in a forum for general audiences, and I’ll try to find better words, but sometimes that’s the only word that fits. I promise no F-bombs though. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get rolling.

ROBOCALL

Saturday night around 8:30 PM, I was on the phone with a friend when call waiting buzzed in. Looking at the screen, I saw that it was a call from MNPS. I thought to myself, “This has gotta be good.” I put my friend on hold and switched over lines. This time MNPS exceeded my expectations:

Good evening Metro Schools Families,

As you may know, there is a national initiative regarding school walkout days in March and April. We recognize student activism is part of the learning process and we respect and support our students’ right to free speech. With their safety in mind, we have asked principals to help students find assembly space within each school for those students who plan to participate. Please know that if students leave school without permission and do not sign out, their absence will be counted as unexcused. Additionally, any disorderly conduct that disrupts school operations will be handled compassionately but firmly, in accordance with the student handbook.

MNPS understands that our students may be feeling lots of emotions, including anxiety, fear and even anger about recent events. Please talk to your children about their feelings and know we have counselors available to help them. If you have questions about your school’s plans for walkout, please contact your principal.

You are receiving this email because of your relationship with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools. If you wish to stop receiving email updates sent through the Blackboard service, please unsubscribe.

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools | 2601 Bransford Avenue, Nashville, TN 37204 | 615-259-4636

WTH!?! I immediately picked up the phone and called my kid’s principal.

“Do you have snacks covered for walkout day? If you don’t, I’ll bring them.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Walkout day. I just got a robocall a few minutes ago telling me that a walkout is scheduled for this month, and I know walking out can be tiring. Kids get hungry. They might want to eat or they’ll get thirsty while hanging out in the designated space. Just trying to help.”

“TC, there are no fourth graders walking out. I’ll talk to you later.” And with that, she promptly hung up.

As rightfully she should have. I don’t know who decided calling parents on a Saturday night to inform them about a potential student walkout later that month was a good idea. I suspect it was the same person who advised Dr. Joseph to send out the “We’re Broke” email last week, but either way, it was a terrible idea.

First of all, it should have probably been targeted to just high school parents and maybe middle school families. Secondly, I’m betting that Saturday night is not the optimal time for parents to process information from the district. I’m not saying that all parents have active social lives, but somebody is keeping the growing number of taverns in Davidson County operating. At the very least, I’m betting many parents were getting ready to Netflix and chill. If I had to pause an episode of Seven Seconds so I could hear about a hypothetical student walkout in the next couple weeks, my reaction wouldn’t be writing the potential dates on the calendar.

Those are irritants, but the biggest problem I have with the robocall is that at its root, it is adults trying to co-op and sanitize kids’ reaction to a social issue, in this case, gun violence. Over the last several years, there has been a trend to make protest a more organized and non-disruptive event. Protests are held at convenient times in non-disruptive locations while carefully making sure that behavior isn’t offensive to anyone. Here’s a news flash for you: that’s not a protest… it’s an assembly. No social policy was ever changed by people just gathering and chanting without making the masses uncomfortable. Kids need to be allowed to plan and execute their own actions in response to school shootings, unencumbered by adult sensibilities.

When it comes to the school shooting issue, people will argue that a large segment of society holds the Second Amendment as a sacred right. Fair enough, but just 70 years ago a large portion of the American population thought it was a sacred right to refer to African-Americans as “Niggers” and have a completely separate system of laws and access for them. It took young people pointing out how wrong that belief was to make change.

I’m reading a book right now, Darktown, that uses the backdrop of Atlanta’s hiring of its first 8 African-American police officers. These officers were not allowed to arrest white people, they had to go to a separate office, and they weren’t allowed in the morgue. The treatment was appalling, but it was symptomatic of the country’s views at the time. Remember, bad policy doesn’t exist unless someone wants it to or someone allows it to.

We act as if that time was a hundred years ago, but it’s barely two generations removed. I guarantee you that policy and public views would not have changed in the ensuing decades had people not protested in a manner that made people uncomfortable. That’s not a call for violent revolution; simply acknowledgement that just sitting and talking in a non-offensive manner doesn’t work.

Furthermore, those who participated in the marches and sit-ins all risked consequences. It might have been the potential loss of a job, incarceration, or the threat of physical violence. Regardless, there was a potential consequence. People demonstrated how deep their beliefs were by willingly embracing the threat of consequences. People paid attention because participants were willing to put it all on the line. Attempting to pull that risk out of a protest action in the name of safety robs it of its power and sets an awful precedent for future generations.

I personally am all for kids organizing to protest gun laws. The irony of those voicing concerns about potential safety issues involved with the protests is not lost on me. I’d argue that we as adults have already done a terrible job of keeping kids safe, so how much worse could it be? They want to take a crack at it, so I say have at it. But there needs to be recognition that in trying to change minds, you run the risk of suspension, expulsion, or other consequences. The willingness to face those consequences is what will give their actions power.

In closing, I do want to say I think MNPS needs to get out of the social justice business as well. Providing counselors the day after Trump’s election, and other like actions, runs the risk of fostering charges of indoctrination, which is not part of the role of schools. The function of schools is to supply the tools that will allow kids to develop into critical thinkers. Critical thinkers do not always arrive at the same conclusions. I don’t need you to think just like me. But I do need you to have the ability to research, process, and defend conclusions based on research.

If students all want to walk out tomorrow in support of their interpretation of the Second Amendment, so be it. As long as the opinions are their own and they are willing to face the consequences, I would take no issue. Because if we live in an educated society that is capable of evaluating competing narratives and arriving at the best policy, we’ll be all right.

Plenty of people argued for the superiority of whites last century. Views were changed because people were willing to risk it all to disprove those views. It was predominately young people driving that conversation. Let’s give history a chance to repeat itself. As adults, we’ve already proven our shortcomings, so it’s time for next up.

BUDGET TALKS

This weekend, money and MNPS was on the tip of everybody’s tongues. On Friday, Channel 5 News did a story on MNPS being almost 8 million dollars short in this year’s budget due to a discrepancy in enrollment figures. This has led to local school budgets – hiring, travel, supplies – being frozen and reductions in next year’s budget. The feeling is that those monies will be swept out of the schools and back into central office to offset the budget deficit. At this point, that’s just speculation, but it is the word on the street.

I’ve monitored several separate conversations on social media this weekend, and one interesting tone I’ve seen emerge is an attempt to lay the blame for budgetary shortcomings at the feet of the State. Not unlike the attempt last year to lay the attempt to cut teacher raises from 3% to 2%.

The State did not heavily invest in scripted curriculum and a wholesale STEAM conversion this year despite the funding not being there. The State didn’t change the redistribution of Title I monies. And the State did not fail to recognize declining enrollment numbers early enough to adjust. Those numbers are based on 20-day counts that get registered 9 times a year with the State.

However, the State is not blameless. Our schools are dramatically underfunded and that needs to be rectified. But it’ll never be rectified if we are not constantly diligent on how our local districts are utilizing resources and willing to shoulder the blame when necessary. I’m not saying that there are not legitimate reasons for this budget shortfall. But that’s where transparency comes in.

The argument gets made that charter schools are eating up all new monies. Is that true? Are their enrollment numbers up? If their numbers are up, why? People don’t just go to a different school on a whim. What do people perceive that charter schools are offering that traditional schools aren’t? That’s an honest conversation that adults should be able to hold without bashing each other.

What about the return on some of our large ticket items? How much have we spent on STEAM conversions? Have we gotten the bang for the buck we envisioned? What about the millions spent on scripted curriculum? Was that investment one that has paid large dividends? What about at central office? We continue to add new positions. Right now, there is a job posted for the Coordinator of Process Change. According to the listing, the person who serves in this positon performs work as directed by the manager to facilitate collaborations, address daily change management issues, documentation management, audit adherence to change control process, and coordinate and maintain process and policy documentation, and service catalog. Are we getting too top heavy again?

Growing up, I got an allowance. I always thought it was too small and that my parents didn’t understand my needs. I didn’t get a larger allowance, though, by blowing the small allowance each weekend, calling my father a greedy bastard, and then demanding more money. I got a larger allowance when I demonstrated the capability to manage the small allowance and was able to aptly demonstrate why I needed the raise. It’s hard to make the argument for more money when you can’t justify the spending of what you’ve been given.

Maybe MNPS can justify it. They’ll have an opportunity tomorrow at 4pm at the board room to discuss the current situation and the upcoming budget. I urge you to show up and listen. I will.

QUICK HITS

Yes, there is a hiring freeze, and therefore many positions throughout the district are not being filled until July 1. Some of you, though, may notice a woman, who bears a striking resemblance to recently-departed Chief of Staff Jana Carlisle, sitting in budget meetings. Word on the street is that the doppelgänger is Marcy Singer-Gabella, the new Chief of Staff. Singer-Gabella comes with a heady resume via Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Those who know her, praise her. Let me be the first to welcome her. I think as long as she doesn’t score any 5’s on her performance reviews, she’ll be fine. We are still giving those, aren’t we?

Speaking of Vanderbilt… Some interesting results from the 2018 Vanderbilt Poll-Nashville, a nonpartisan public opinion research project conducted annually by Vanderbilt’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions (CSDI). According to their results, the Metro School Board has a 51 percent approval rating, while Metro Schools Director of School Shawn Joseph has 46 percent. However, among parents of children in public school, the Board’s approval rises to 58 percent and Joseph’s approval rises to 59 percent—right in line with the approval ratings for the rest of the city’s leadership. This is the same poll that has Mayor Barry’s favorables at 61%.

Reminder: Friday, March 16, will now be an instructional day. Students will attend school that day to make up for an inclement weather day used in January.

Last week, the student council at Shwab Elementary School did a fantastic job performing the play Big Dreams. Afterwards it was the second graders’ wax museum. 

Here’s the latest Russ on Reading post: Building Vocabulary: Teaching from a Conceptual Base.

POLL RESULTS

Wow. This week’s poll response was phenomenal. I am so appreciative. Let’s dive into results.

The first question asked for your response to Dr. Joseph’s “We are broke” email. 157 of you responded, with 24% of you wondering if he still had the Tahoe. Tied at 28% was “starting to hear death knell.” 17% of you admitted to being scared by the email. Only 2 of you expressed faith that Dr. Joseph would make the right decisions to guide us through this.

You may call it noise, but I’d describe it at troubling noise. If nothing else, it shows a lack of ability to create a positive narrative and a continually eroding level of trust. Say what you will, but with 157 responses, the Director of Schools should be able to generate more than 3 positive responses. Here are the write-ins:

Once upon a time, we did lots with nothing. What makes it so much harder now? 1
I don’t read his emails. 1
Time for no confidence vote for Joseph 1
Not surprising from a politician. 1
It was a warning sign that the end of public schools is near. 1
And we thought teaching in Metro was tough this year! 1
Not surprised, but a little worried 1
like everything else, too much disconnect 1
Central office is so top heavy!!! 1
He’s an idiot w/ 0 successes in Nashville 1
Leadership 101: take responsibility and don’t blame others for your failures 1
We knew this would be coming at some point! 1
Time for no confidence vote. Everyone is conisidering leaving MNPS. Everyone. 1
Give us our Title one money now 1
Crap as always from him! 1
It’s conncected to the contract Metro teachers are trying to negotiate. 1
I’m hoping to hear the death knell. 1
Clueless more than ever 1
What expenses are being cut at central office? 1
He needs to take a big pay cut!!! 1
Where’d all the money go???? Oh, all the peeps he brought in… 1
Fire him! 1
Spent it on reading consultants. Thanks Dr. Felder

Question two asked you to gaze into your crystal ball and make a recommendation to the next Governor of Tennessee on Candice McQueen. This one got 148 responses with 55% of you saying she needed to return back to Lipscomb. 10% of you hoped she remained in her position at State Commissioner of Education. Fewer write-ins here:

Fire her 1
Fire her! 1
The previous admin sucked the state dry…. she’s working to clean up a mess 1
Reassign her to teach MNPS middle school 1
Replace her. 1
Sue her for heading up the state’s educational malpractice system

The last question asked for your opinion on what had improved at MNPS. Two of my favorites, EL services and Community Achieves, were the leading vote getters. The story, though, was the write-ins. The record number of write-ins. Here they are:

Nothing 7
None of the above 5
Advanced academics 2
None 2
Reading Recovery 2
turnover 1
It’s worse! 1
Technology available to teachers 1
No. Just… no – AHS Teacher. Just saying. 1
None of the above! 1
Our ability to spend money on testing. How many schools can we fund with MAP $$? 1
SEL Department 1
Principal comraderie 1
Business partners and experiential learning 1
H.G. Hill MS 1
Has there been an improvement worth making this list??? 1
The wellness center 1
Support services: truancy and social workers 1
LOL 1
No part, sad to say… 1
Coaches and other misc individuals who make signifcant salaries 1
Teachers’ resolve to go on strike 1
Leadership & Learning – +8 million in budget 1
Not one thing. How many people on admin leave? 1
Honestly, none of the above. 1
Not one thing is better. Just further bogged down in training and processes. 1
I see no tangible evidence of improvement. 1
Student Services 1
Just a bigger mess 1
There have been improvements? 1
school-based budgeting 1
incompetence 1
Gifted services but these will be the first to go. 1
Support Services – social work, SEL, Comm Ach, etc 1
not much 1
Felder is millions over budget. Need a formal investigation into wrongdoing. 1
Reading Recovery supporting literacy growth 1
It’s a shit show and the amateur hour needs to end 1
none of the above 1
Wellness Center 1
declining enrollment 1
Addressing childhood adversity and trauma 1
Music in our schools! 1
No more Pearl Cohn songs about Dr. Joseph 1
math instruction/scope and sequence – maybe Jessica Slayton could take over ELA 1
Increased amount spent on consultants 1
Kronos

Yikes. Again, maybe it’s all just noise. But noise gets ignored at our own peril.

That’s it for now. Hope I didn’t chase y’all off. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short and don’t get them out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. I need you to like that Facebook page.

 

PSSSST…. BY THE WAY, WE’RE BROKE.

6

Well, this has been a week. It started, as too many of these weeks have, with the death of someone special. You’ve heard me talk about moving here in 1989 and how the Rock scene in Nashville at that time was a small but tight-knit group. At the time, we would fight amongst ourselves, forming petty grievances as only the young seem to have capacity to, but we never lost sight that we were a tribe. As we grew older, those grievances began to drop off, even as some of us did as well. These days, my soul will soar when I walk into a room full of these survivors, and my heart will just swell with pride over my membership in this collective of smart, witty, artistic people.

The Simmons brothers were some of the first people I met upon my arrival. Three of the nicest men you could ever meet. I always marveled at the fact that despite playing heavy metal music, not the most popular genre, their skill and integrity set them at the center of the Nashville rock community. You never heard a bad word about the Simmons brothers from anyone, and if you were in their company, odds were you were smiling. Pauly Simmons and I got sober 4 days apart, 18 years ago. I’d be willing to bet that today, that sobriety is giving him some much-needed strength.

Youngest brother Jamie Simmons passed away over the weekend as a result of a car accident. Ironically, Jamie had made a miraculous recovery over the last several years from a 2012 motorcycle accident. He leaves behind a wife and three lovely girls. The world without his infectious smile is a little darker today, and my prayers go out to the family.

TITLE I

Last week, I told you about the formula change for the distribution of Title I funds. Throughout the week, details continued to emerge on the impact this shift would have on individual school’s budgets. By the end of the week, a dire picture had emerged. Individual schools were looking to lose anywhere from $200k to $700K.

If the loss wasn’t enough, it soon became clear that staffing for individual schools was also going to be more expensive this year. In fact, the overall average increase of all positions at an individual school went up by about 4%. This means that it will cost more money to bring back people in the same positions. That’s a hard pill to swallow in an environment where every dollar counts.

Let me use one unnamed MNPS school as an example. If they put the exact same employees on this year’s roster into next year’s budget, this is what they’ll find:

The employee cost alone will exceed their entire budget by $227,000. They spent $212,215 last year on Non-Staff expenses, or about 3% of their total budget. If you include all of those, along with the entire staff, they will exceed next year’s budget by $439,215. What that means is that they must cut $439,215 from what they have in this year’s budget to balance their budget. This is due both to the increased costs in positions and the loss of Title I funds.

That is just one example, but it is the same story across the district save for a handful of schools. You see, money is being taken from some schools and being given to those with the highest needs based on their poverty numbers and being included on the “priority” list. I’ve always hated that list because shouldn’t all of our schools be considered “priority schools”? We tend to label schools “high needs” or “more affluent” and think that adequately defines their needs. I’m guilty of it myself, but the reality is our schools are made up of many different kinds of students. Are those Title I kids enrolled in an “affluent” school any less deserving of additional resources than those who attend a “high needs” school?

Title I was created to give additional resources to those kids who are impacted by poverty. It was not created to give additional resources only to kids who attend schools where 75% of the kids are impacted by poverty. Of course, all of this is done in the name of “equity” and because it “lines up with our strategic framework.” Two phrases that have replaced “rigor” and “All kids can learn” as the buzzwords du jour.

If those budgets weren’t enough to get tensions riled, Dr. Joseph decided to release a memo to all employees basically saying “we are broke.” I don’t know who advised Dr. Joseph on this memo, but they might as well have figuratively advised him to load up his Tahoe with gasoline and start dousing schools because that’s the effect the memo produced.

The memo raises a number of issues for me. Joseph cites an unexpected enrollment decrease this year, which means $7.5 million less in state funds. Why the decrease? All of us can look around and see that Nashville is growing by leaps and bounds, so why is enrollment dropping? I’m not discounting that there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for this decline, but shouldn’t that be grounds for discussion? Shouldn’t there be a strategy to counter the pending decline in enrollment? Is this a trend or an outlier?

Here’s the thing about school student counts. They typically take place on the 40th day of the year. Go ask any teacher in a high poverty school and they will tell you that it is shortly thereafter that you start to see more kids show up in class. Anecdotally, things were no different this year. So where is the loss of students coming from? Hopefully they are not connected to the proposed raise in funding of $7.8 million to teaching and learning.

Joseph goes on to outline steps that the administration is taking to counter the loss. Steps that only make me more confused.

“All spending for the remainder of the year should be carefully reviewed and placed on hold if not essential to operation or to the implementation of our district priorities.” Huh? Does he presume that there are schools out there sitting on bags of money that they are planning to spend without consideration? Has this review not already been done? Shouldn’t this have been a part of the initial budget process last year?

His next bullet point talks about scrutinizing travel. Was this not promised last year? Did we stop scrutinizing travel somewhere along the way?

He then goes on to list a few things that need more funding and cites school-level Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and the Strategic Framework as guides. I’m telling you now, get used to those words and get used to them continuing to roll off the tongues of district leadership.

The Tennessean ran an article late Friday that also alluded to some cuts in services that could be a byproduct of the Title I money being shifted. According to TNDOE spokesperson Sara Gast, there could be an additional moving of resources and instructional material beyond funding as a result in the raising of the Title I threshold:

“Our team here has been in communication with MNPS’s team to ensure they understand these other components of federal law and take them into consideration, and we appreciate that they continue to think about how they can utilize and concentrate funds most efficiently and effectively,”

One item that I’m sure has not been given ample consideration is the impact on teachers who are enrolled in student loan forgiveness plans. Many of those loans are contingent upon a teacher serving five years in a Title I school. If a school is no longer receiving services, does that mean a teacher is no longer eligible for their student loan forgiveness plan unless they switch schools? I don’t know, but I do know a whole bunch of teachers are on the phone to their student loan providers right now.

All of this is starting to sound a whole lot like Seaford, Delaware, home of Shawn Joseph’s last stint as a Superintendent. Upon arrival, Joseph started making wholesale changes. Some of those changes may have a ring of familiarity to them:

In addition to training, there will also be an increased focus on the rigor of the curriculum, Joseph said. “Wherever I have gone, parents have asked me time and time again about the rigor of our programs,” Joseph said. “We have to do something compellingly different.”

At the elementary schools, Joseph plans to invest in new reading books that will combine phonics instruction with critical thinking and that will “meet the children where they are,” including children who are reading above grade level. Teachers will be trained to use the new books to “make a more engaging reading program.”

Training on the secondary level will also make sure that “teachers know how to create engaging, memorable lessons,” Joseph said. “We will teach them how to help the children think critically.”

Of course, change costs money, and Joseph spent money. A tax referendum was proposed. The referendum failed and Dr. Joseph was out the door. Joseph’s successor, Dr. Ken Carson, was left with the task of making budget cuts. They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Channel 5 News also did a story on the budgetary shortfall which leads me to ask… Why is Chris Henson answering questions on camera and not Shawn Joseph? Principals are scheduling meetings after school to answer questions, while Joseph trots out his lieutenants to deliver the bad news. I’m just going to say it… when you are making $300K a year, sometimes you have to take point. You can’t always deflect blame onto those you are supposed to be leading.

STATE FOLLIES

The State wasn’t going to stand by and let Nashville act the fool all by its lonesome. Nope, they had to bring their own style of crazy this week.

On Wednesday, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee approved a proposal that could lead to armed teachers in the classroom. They did this despite the objections of Governor Haslam, the State Department of Education, the police, mothers, and any other sane people. This bill is being called for by virtually no one save politicians.

There are plenty of people who have chimed in on this ridiculousness in a much more poignant manner than I could, but I do want to raise one point. Teachers are conditioned to love those kids the hardest who are the hardest to love. How’s that going to work if they know that there is a potential that they’ll have to put a round in that very child?

Riddle me this. If you have a D student come up to you and start telling you about their latest brilliant plan to get straight A’s, how do you envision you would react? Would you openly accept their argument or would you perhaps try to temper it? Basically that’s the script State Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen is reading from these days when it comes to school improvement plans.

Testing… dismal failure for multiple years.

Achievement School District… dismal failure for multiple years.

Yet she feels confident to try to dictate to both Memphis and Chattanooga on how best to handle their struggling schools. It is mind boggling to me how someone who has continually failed year after year at school turnarounds feels comfortable dictating to others how they should proceed. It’s like taking advice on winning the Super Bowl from Johnny Manziel. As always, Andy Spears does a better job of laying out the case. In terms of Memphis, Spears writes:

Let’s be clear: Candice McQueen has presided over a failed transition to a new test and an aggressive intervention model for struggling schools that has left kids behind. Now, she’s insisting that Shelby County do what she says. Why would anyone trust their district’s students to Candice McQueen’s judgment?

Tru dat. Read the whole thing.

QUICK HITS

Two new principal jobs became open this week. One we’ll miss, and one who we’ll help pack. Dr. Steve Chauncy announced his retirement from Hillwood HS in June, and he will be missed. Keiva Wiley announced on Wednesday that at the end of the year, she’ll be leaving Antioch HS and moving to Florida to be with her husband. It’s now time for the healing to start at Antioch HS.

WANTED: Someone to live tweet MNPS School Board meetings. Things just haven’t been the same since Andrea Zelinski went to Texas and Amanda Haggard had a baby. Their gains have been our loss. Though Jason Gonzales does deserve props for the clever graphic this past week. Surely there is someone in the MNPS Communications Department that can play the role of a younger, better looking Joe Bass.

The Southeast Nashville Community Center presents Coffee & Conversation with Candidates on Saturday, March 3, at 9 AM. I’ll be there if you are looking for someone to chat with.

Pre-K applications are now open. Visit the website to learn more about our Pre-K program and how to apply at  In case you didn’t know, MNPS had a grant run out this year. So in the name of equity, the sliding scale has changed a bit. I really wish someone could explain to me how raising the rates from $36 to $54 for someone who makes $40k a year improves equity. Maybe you can ask that question when you enroll.

Still waiting to hear whether or not the Community Eligible Provision will continue. In case you weren’t aware, the CEP is the program that provides free lunch for all kids. It’s kinda a big deal. Kinda a really big deal. The district promises to let the community know the state of affairs soon.

The latest Russ on Reading blog post is about building vocabulary. Read it and build yours.

Darktown is a fascinating mystery that uses Atlanta’s hiring of their first 8 African-American police officers as a back drop.

If you love your 90’s rock… The Breeders have a new one out this week.

POLL QUESTIONS

Question time again.

This week, I’d like to know what your reaction to Dr. Joseph’s budget email was? Did it make you feel better? Worse? About the same?

The next question is about Dr. McQueen. What should the next governor of Tennessee do with her? Keep her? Cut her? Let me know.

Last question, if you had to pick one part of MNPS that you thought was working, and you couldn’t pick teachers, what would it be? What part of MNPS do you believe has shown the most improvement over the last 2 years? I breathlessly await your answers.

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. I need you to like that Facebook page.

 

A STEM AWAKENING

Talk about setting oneself up for failure. Publishing former MNPS teacher Scott Bennett’s exit letter yesterday really raised the bar for the week. It seems his words resonated with y’all, and as a result, that post has grown to become one of my all-time most popular. Hopefully, MNPS leadership is also taking a gander at it. That said, let’s get to this week’s news.

STEM LAND

One of the immeasurable gifts that writing this blog supplies me with is the opportunity to meet some of the most incredible people you could imagine. Yesterday, I found myself in a room full of those people while attending STEM Summit II out at the MTSU campus.

I approached the summit with some trepidation, as I’m more of a liberal arts guy than a STEM guy. Something that former Maplewood AP and current Mount Pleasant Principal Ryan Jackson was kind enough to point out during his keynote speech yesterday, and I do appreciate his reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. As a side note, if you ever get a chance to hear Jackson speak, take advantage of it. The guy has a story that could be its own movie, and by the time he’s finished talking, he’ll have you prepared to run through walls.

As things got underway, I settled into my seat, not sure what to expect. The first speaker was a man named Robert Eaker, who is a professor emeritus at MTSU. Many of you are probably familiar with his work, but I was not. From the very first slide on, I was hooked.

Eaker spoke of the importance of not what a leader says or writes, but rather what they do. I have always contended that modeling is the most powerful form of instruction, and here was Eaker reaffirming that tenet.

He spoke of the need to “gain shared knowledge” when faced with a problem. Too often leadership is dashing off a perceived solution to a problem without ever taking inventory of the resources in the room. It is imperative that a culture is created where all are welcome to offer input in order to find best practices. Confrontation should not be a four letter word, and just because everyone agrees on something does not make it best practice. Best practice should be research-based and data driven.

Eaker went on to speak of the need to organize teachers into collaborative teams. He told of a school district that did not hire 3rd grade teachers, but rather you were hired to be a member of the 3rd grade team. A subtle but powerful distinction.

Once those teams are formed, it is important to ensure that they are doing the right work. Support must be given to those teams’ efforts to improve their effectiveness. Equally important is the recognizing and celebrating the right work when it occurs.

Eaker listed a number of ways that we set up students for failure, among them the “thoughtless use of zeros.” Recently there has been a lot of debate about whether students should receive zeroes if they failed to do the work. I personally am not a fan of the practice because it strikes me as purely punitive. I like Eaker’s view that it is all right to give zeroes as long as you force the student to do the make up work. The zero should serve as a placeholder.

Proponents of the awarding of zeroes cite the need to prepare students for the “real world.” The truth is that in the real world, if I don’t complete an assignment I don’t get let off the hook. I still have to turn in the work, and there is a penalty. There is no need for schools to function any differently.

If a student is given an assignment, it their responsibility to complete the assignment. Assigning a student a zero and freeing them from completing that assignment because they missed the deadline in essence let’s them off the hook. It serves as a reward for irresponsible behavior. There is no evidence in existence that supports the theory of increasing responsible behavior by rewarding irresponsible behavior.

Dr. Eaker went on to outline several more ways that schools could be structured to better serve teachers and students. Reminding us that schools aren’t places where children go to be taught, but rather places where children go to learn. Another subtle but important distinction.

By the time Dr. Eaker got done speaking, I was more filled with optimism than I have been for months. Here was a respected veteran educator speaking the truths that I held most evident to a room full of educators. The truth was out there and change was coming.

I wasn’t even out of Murfreesboro before the euphoria began to fade. The things that were said today weren’t some brilliant pearls of wisdom dropped from heaven. They were common knowledge. It is no secret what makes a quality leader. It is no secret what are best practices for students and teachers. What seems to be the secret is how to develop the will to implement.

Driving along I-24 back to Nashville, the realization began to creep back over me that, despite all this knowledge, tomorrow, MNPS leadership would continue to have a disconnect between what they say and what they do, teachers would still be allowed to teach in isolation, homework without meaning would still be assigned, zeroes would still be handed out, and worksheets would be distributed. Teachers would still be under immense pressure due to a focus on teaching rather than learning.

At some point we have to reclaim our classrooms and school buildings. We have to start implementing what we know are best practices. All bad practices exist in schools either because people want them to or they are allowed to. We have the tools to create better outcomes; we just need to commit to them.

I’m still not completely sold on the concept of STEM, but I am sold on the ideas that I heard espoused at the STEM Summit II, and I will continue to do more research. It was good to look around the room and see many of the principals who work in MNPS in attendance. I remain hopeful that they will go back to their individual schools and put the theories heard into practice. Sometimes change has to start small and then grow into a movement. Here’s hoping I bore witness to the beginnings of a movement.

TITLE I

MNPS principals received the numbers yesterday for their individual school budgets for next year, and there was a bit of a collective sigh of relief to go with the feelings of concern. Oh, don’t get me wrong, individual schools lost funding and principals are definitely alarmed, but the hit was a little less than feared.

You have to wonder if that wasn’t part of leadership’s strategy all along. Scare people into thinking they are going to lose a half million dollars and they become relieved when they only lose a quarter million. It still hurts, but you tell yourself it’s not as bad as it could have been.

As I previously mentioned, there is a federal formula – poverty rate x 1.6 – that is used to calculate a school’s eligibility for Title I monies. Last year, a school could have as low as 35% of kids receiving direct services and still be eligible for funding, based on the formula, through Title I. This year that threshold increases to 47%.

The district has previously touted an increase in individual school budgets. What they seldom talk about is the increased inclusion of “non-negotiables” that are now stipulated. For example, last year elementary schools had to pay for an advanced academics teacher and a literacy coach out of their budgets. So it’s kind of like I raise my kids’ allowance from $10 to $15, but I now tell them what they have to spend $7 on. Did I really raise their allowance? I’m told that the non-negotiable list has grown this year.

Title I monies and non-negotiables aren’t the only issues having a negative impact. Attendance projections for almost all schools are reportedly being lowered. Last year was the first year in over a decade that MNPS saw a decline in enrollment and apparently that trend is expected to continue into next year. That is a worrisome trend and could have dire impacts on schools.

I’ve yet to hear any real theories on why enrollment numbers are shrinking. Some will point to the increased enrollment at charter schools, others to the people being priced out of Nashville and lured to surrounding counties. After all, Rutherford and Williamson Counties are bursting at the seams. Some of it needs to fall at the feet of Dr. Joseph and his team. After two years, he should be making a stronger argument for why MNPS schools are the right choice for parents. Whatever the reason, the decline in numbers is just one more factor in making the job of educating Nashville’s children a bit more difficult.

It is extremely important that we recognize that these individual elements translate into more than an intellectual exercise. An increase in the non-negotiables coupled with lower overall funding translates into a loss in staffing, both teachers and administrators, and the loss of essential programs. This should be extremely concerning to parents and hopefully many of you will continue to pay closer attention to the budgeting process. It’s impact on students cannot be overemphasized.

QUICK HITS

Yesterday, MNPS honored the 16 students who desegregated Metro Nashville Public Schools. A well-deserved tip of the hat to those 16 individuals and their tremendous courage and contributions.

Williamson County Schools held a special school board meeting last night where it was decided that Dr. Looney would not face a reprimand over a recent incident with a student and her mother that led to his arrest. The board viewed video, that due to FERPA regulations could not be shared with the public, and decided that Looney had done nothing warranting corrective action.

So despite it being acknowledged that Looney touched the student, that he tried to put the student in his car, that the police took control of the young lady and the situation, that the police on the scene provided enough evidence that an arrest warrant was issued, the video offers ample evidence to counter those assertions. I can’t imagine what could possibly be on that video, but based on knowing the people who have viewed the video, I would argue that the trust factor has to come into play. Not the most transparent of processes, but given the restrictions necessitated, probably the best that could be done.

Over the last few years, there has been growing support for the “community school” model for high-need populations. Community schools recognize the role of poverty in student outcomes and attempt to counteract those effects by offering wraparound services and increased community involvement. Memphis took a big step this week by promoting the founding principal of Memphis’ first community school to Shelby County Schools’ Director of Family and Community Engagement, in a move that underscores the district’s commitment to expanding the community schools model.

Here in Nashville, Community Achieves continues to develop and promote the community school model. It’s an approach that has the backing of at least one gubernatorial candidate, Randy Boyd, who called community schools “one place to start” in improving low-performing schools. TEA also has legislation that is winding through the State House and Senate that will give further support to the concept of community schools as a turnaround strategy. Community schools would give a viable alternative to Tennessee’s failed experiment, the Achievement School District.

Out in Aurora, Colorado, they are experimenting with an interesting idea, parent-teacher conferences held in the students’ homes. Right now, the idea is getting mixed reviews, but it does bear watching.

One of the most powerful voices to rise out of the tragedy in Parkland, Florida, is that of  high school student Emma Gonzales. Emma has written a piece for Harper’s Bazaar that I encourage everyone to read. She writes:

Teachers do not need to be armed with guns to protect their classes, they need to be armed with a solid education in order to teach their classes. That’s the only thing that needs to be in their job description. People say metal detectors would help. Tell that to the kids who already have metal detectors at school and are still victims of gun violence. If you want to help arm the schools, arm them with school supplies, books, therapists, things they actually need and can make use of.

Can’t really argue with that. But that doesn’t mean that some aren’t finding fault with her thoughts and trying to write her off as a child in an effort to devalue her views. Gonzales counters with powerful words:

Adults are saying that children are emotional. I should hope so—some of our closest friends were taken before their time because of a senseless act of violence that should never have occurred. If we weren’t emotional, they would criticize us for that, as well. Adults are saying that children are disrespectful. But how can we respect people who don’t respect us? We have always been told that if we see something wrong, we need to speak up; but now that we are, all we’re getting is disrespect from the people who made the rules in the first place. Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions.

Like I said, read the whole piece and watch the emergence of a future leader. I’d also urge you to read the words of Williamson County senior Maggie Henderson. I tell you, these kids are all right. Better than all right… inspiring.

If you are intrigued by the aforementioned words of Richard Eaker, I encourage you to check out Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work™ (An Actionable Guide to Implementing the PLC Process and Effective Teaching Methods).

Have I mentioned lately what a fan I am of Marvin Gaye?

This Saturday, March 3, the Junior League of Nashville is hosting a free book festival for Nashville families. Come out for book readings, puppet shows, character meet-and-greets, and more!

POLL QUESTIONS

There was quite a bit of response to this week’s poll questions. Let’s take a look at the results.

The first question asked for your read on this year’s MNPS budget. 46% of you predicted that it was going to be a rough budgetary season, and 39% of you were anticipating no growth in the budget.

That is not good news because MNPS needs increased financial resources. We need an increase for teachers and support staff salaries. We need an increase in para-professional and substitute salaries. We need an increase for capital needs. We don’t need an increase for transforming middle schools into STEAM schools, outside consultants, and purchasing scripted curriculum. I would argue that we made a serious miscalculation last year by focusing on programs versus people. A miscalculation that could have long-term ramifications. Only 3 respondents expressed faith that Dr. Joseph had made the right moves to get schools needed resources. Time will tell.

Here are the write in votes:

My school alone will have to cut 6 or more employees. Save our $! 1
Follow the money trail 1
School budgets will go down while Dr. J & crew use funds to promote themselves 1
I smell a West Virginia strike brewing in MNPS 1
Wait and see 1
Where is Dr. J spending all our money?Consultants? 1
We’re all screwed 1
Fire Felder and give her $185000 to a school

The second question asked for what you thought of the idea of a four-day school week. Y’all were equally split at 31% each, that it would be awesome but hard on working parents. Only 5% of you outright dismissed the idea. Here are the write-ins:

Can high school start at 8???? 1
need more info 1
I’d like to see some research on this and read MNPS proposals.

The last question asked what you thought should be the number one issue for the upcoming school board race. The number one answer, with 62%, was teacher recruitment and retention. Which is good for me because that’s my number one issue as well and the basis for my school board run. Number two, at 8%, was funding.

Interestingly enough, it’s now March, and I have yet to hear the district’s plan for filling positions next year. Maybe somebody ought to schedule that presentation for an upcoming school board meeting. This question garnered a lot of write-in answers. Here they are:

High school start times. 1
Development of a comprehensive school reform plan 1
all of the above 1
Investigating ethical practices of current leadership, particularly $$$ 1
Lies 1
lack of leadership in distict 1
Real Education 1
Increase teacher compensation and safety 1
Treating teachers like human beings, not robots. 1
Appropriate discipline 1
Superintendent and admin staffing costs and necessities 1
Firing Dr. Joseph-he’s a criminal 1
Firing Felder! 1
Remove Joseph

That’s it for now. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and try to promote as many of the things sent to me as possible, but I do apologize if I fall short.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. I need you to like that Facebook page.