IN NEED OF A STEADY HAND

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As this week comes to a close, I find myself wondering if General Kelly has a brother or sister who may be looking for a job. A friend, maybe? Perhaps he himself is looking for a slightly less stressful challenge than being Chief of Staff for President Trump and would like to employ his skills elsewhere. I ask because MNPS is in desperate need for somebody to step up and assume the role he plays in the Trump White House. Just like early in the Trump presidency, somebody needs to get the chaos under control.

I know, Dr. Joseph already has a Chief of Staff in Jana Carlisle. But let’s be fair, serving as a true Chief of Staff was never going to be her strong suit. She’s done good work on MNPSNext, and she’s put forth a valiant effort in getting the Communications Department in some kind of functioning order, but Central Office needs so much more than she is equipped to offer.

Dr. Joseph needs somebody who knows the history and the players involved in education politics for both the city and the state. He needs someone who can anticipate the challenges his policies will face and design a strategy to proactively face those challenges instead of always being reactive. A true Chief of Staff needs to have as clear an understanding of what goes on in the classroom as well as what goes on in the board room. They must be able to bring all the different factions of Central Office together with a central focus on Dr. Joseph’s strategies and policies. Currently we have nobody with a clear understanding of what goes on in the classroom.

Think that’s too harsh? Really? Currently you’ve got one faction implementing curriculum without a clear understanding of how it fits in with state policy. You’ve got one office creating a principal pipeline while the other office replaces departing principals with candidates outside the pipeline. Contracts are signed and others terminated with little foresight into how individual schools will be impacted. Community Superintendents are forced to create their own visions because leadership either has not shared their vision or is slow to communicate it. All of it combined is having a detrimental effect on classrooms and creating a chaotic environment that is negatively impacting the district.

Let’s take a look at just this week and its chaotic events.

WKRN did a story this week about violence at John Early Magnet School. John Early is a magnet school and a pathway to Hume-Fogg HS. It’s a school where the police have been called 40 times this year, with 7 of those times being for assault. School officials say there have been 62 fights this year. We are less than 60 days into the new school year, so that means there has been a fight everyday.

As a parent, I would find that extremely alarming. WKRN brought the concerns to the attention of Northwest Quadrant Superintendent Pippa Meriwether. According to Channel, 2 Meriwether said the changes, which include a school-wide climate and culture intervention plan, were brought on by looking at the disciplinary data from last year. “We wanted to be proactive,” she said.

Pray tell, how is that being proactive? They might have altered policy, but I think it’s safe to say that their modifications didn’t work and perhaps it should have been tweaked after the first, say, 10 incidents. Is MNPS going to wait until after something serious happens before they step in? Growing up in San Antonio, I remember when seven young men kicked a young man to death. Does that have to happen before we take decisive action? Because I’d argue we’ve been lucky 60 times that it hasn’t happened. We can’t keep pushing the odds.

Things at Antioch High School continue to deteriorate. This week, word is that they have lost their AVID demonstration school status and that none of their academies are going to get accredited. In case you are not familiar, the AVID Center is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap by preparing all students for college and other postsecondary opportunities. AVID Center was founded to support and oversee the AVID System first created by Mary Catherine Swanson in 1980. Established more than 35 years ago with one teacher in one classroom, AVID today impacts more than 1.5 million students in 46 states and 16 other countries and territories.

Obviously, an AVID demonstration school is one that has successfully put the tenets of the AVID philosophy into place and is capable of demonstrating the effectiveness of the program. I can’t think of a scenario where losing that status would be beneficial. Two years ago, Antioch was a level 5 school. That can’t be said today. At some point, the district is going to have to assess the situation and implement corrective action. District leadership’s relationship with school leadership should be part of that assessment.

Thursday, I got a report that many schools in the district could not use their copier machine. I was told that the district signed a new contract with a new vendor and that the old vendor got mad and took back all the reserve toner, leaving schools with none. That didn’t sound right to be, but after checking in with several schools… yep, that’s what happened. Face palm.

This week also saw the district post its proposed calendar for next school year on Facebook. Stakeholders were invited to give their feedback, though the official poll didn’t allow people to leave comments, only answer the four question poll created by MNPS. However, FB allowed for comments and you didn’t have to scroll through many to pick up the central themes – people don’t like the proposed schedule, and teachers need planning time.

On our current calendar, teacher planning time has recently been converted into professional development time. The district blames the state for this transition. I’m still trying to get an answer from them. Whoever is to blame is creating a real obstacle for teachers. Planning time is essential, especially if you are going to argue that every minute of every day is critical. Planning is a major part of teaching and taking away planning time is not dissimilar to taking away books. The job can still be done, but it becomes twice as difficult and half as effective.

Speaking of half as effective. This week also saw the rollout of the IFL units for elementary school math. This basically scripted curriculum is being received by teachers in a similar fashion as the literacy IFL units were received. In other words, not well. Many question why we are turning to the University of Pittsburgh to create curriculum when we have the capabilities to do so here in the district. It is probably just coincidence that MNPS’s number 2 guy, Sito Narcisse, got his Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh and is still active with the university.

The purchasing of scripted Literacy curriculum was suspect enough, but Math is completely baffling to me. David Williams is the Executive Officer for Curriculum and Instruction and by all accounts a brilliant math teacher. I’ve talked to so many teachers over the years who just sing the praises of his mathematics professional development sessions. Every one of them would testify that he has helped make them better math teachers, yet we pay the University of Pittsburgh to write curriculum for us. It’s like Alabama Football Head Coach Nick Saban asking Kent State University, where he got his Masters degree, to write defensive schemes for him.

There was a groundbreaking for Hillsboro High School back in August. Since then, things have been pretty quiet, though several people have been trying, to no avail, to get updates over the past several weeks. Well this week that silence was broken as stakeholders were informed that the project was currently 13 million dollars over budget. The proposed remedy was to cut the baseball field and move it to an off campus site. Let’s watch how that plays out.

Today the state released TNReady scores for the district and to put it delicately, they weren’t good. According to the results, only 25% of MNPS elementary and middle school kids were performing on grade level in literacy and math. I’m not a big believer in standardized tests, but that data is a little sobering. The story this year is in marked contrast to what it was in 2015, the last year we have data, when the district made incremental gains. I understand it’s a different test, but when you add it to the MAP data, we seem to be going in the wrong direction.

The substitute teacher situation continues to plague MNPS. Jason Gonzales recently wrote a decent overview of the situation for the Tennessean. One thing not covered in the Tennessean article is that MNPS recently contracted with an outside group, Education Solution Services, to secure substitutes for 22 district schools. A sub must now be contracted by both MNPS and ESS in order to secure assignments for all district schools. There is a bonus if  a sub works 10 days per pay period. The catch is, those days have to be for either ESS or MNPS, not a mixture, in order for the sub to be considered eligible for the bonus. I’m not sure how having 2 separate entities drawing from the same pool benefits anybody, nor how paying twice for the same service benefits anyone.

Lastly, MNPS decided at last week’s board meeting that they would join Shelby County in a lawsuit demanding increased funding from the state. I’m all for holding the state accountable for their financial obligations. My only caveat is that before you attack someone else you better have your own house in order. I sure hope that MNPS’s finances can handle the scrutiny they are about to receive.

Since turnaround is fair play, the state announced on Friday that they would be suing the district over their refusal to supply directory data to charter schools in accordance with the new state law. What this means is that Christmas at a number of attorneys’ homes just got a whole lot brighter. After all, when large entities like MNPS and TNDOE go to court, ultimately it’s the lawyers who benefit the most.

All the stuff I just outlined has primarily come to fruition this week and doesn’t include a plethora of other issues that were already on the district’s plate. The long and short of it is there is a lot of turbulence on MNPS’s horizon. Some of it comes with the territory, much of it could be mitigated by a strong Chief of Staff. To reiterate, someone who has a strong relationship with the players and an understanding of the playing field so they can guide Dr. Joseph to success and remove some of the impediments. I’m not advocating for anybody to be fired, but I am advocating that… well, maybe General Kelly has a sister.

BRIGHT SPOTS

I started this morning off at Maplewood HS for October’s ProjectLit Book Club. This month, the book was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. If you haven’t attended a ProjectLit Book Club yet, you are really missing out. They are doing more to advance literacy among high school students than 100 Mayor’s Councils on Literacy could. Sorry Megan, you know I love you, but the mayor’s office needs to jump on this bandwagon.

 

Congratulations are in order! Nashville Classical Charter School student Eloise Poag was selected as the “Student Mayor for a Day” by Mayor Megan Barry as part of the Nashville Public Library‘s Summer Challenge.

Croft’s ProjectLit Book Club will meet on October 26 at 4:30 pm in the library to talk about Nya and Salva in A Long Walk to Water. Don’t miss the opportunity to join in.

Cockrill Elementary will hold their Trunk or Treat Block Party on Saturday, October 28th, from 12:00 – 2:00 pm. They look forward to seeing you there.

The Two Rivers Middle School food pantry is open each day to all MNPS families from 9 am – 3 pm. They provide snacks, canned goods, and some frozen food items.

 

MNPS is hosting a recruitment fair for support staff on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 9 am – 3 pm at the Martin Professional Development Center. Register for the event here: http://bit.ly/2gxYNCu

POLL QUESTIONS

Time now to get to the poll questions. The first question will be in regards to the proposed calendar. Like it? Love it? Hate it? What are your thoughts?

For the second question, I’d like to know your reaction to recently released TNReady scores. Mostly ignore them or put a lot of stock in them – what do you think?

Lastly, teachers, what do you think of the new IFL math units? Improvement? Horrible? You tell me.

That’s it for today. Remember you can contact me at norirad10@yahoo.com Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook Page. 

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BACK TO CLASS

I hope everybody in Nashville had themselves a wonderful fall break. The news of school reopening was met with mixed emotions here at the Weber household. My third grade daughter was absolutely stoked to be heading back, while my second grade son was decidedly less enthused.

Before we get into things, I have to comment on the “MeToo” posts on social media. I find them extremely powerful, though they fill me with great deal of sadness. A realization creeps in that perhaps my innocent youthful indiscretions weren’t as innocent as I thought, and for any I may have hurt, I’m truly sorry.

I read the words and stories, I see players taking a knee over racial inequity, and I can’t help but realize that for many, life is a lot harder than it rightfully should be. The powerful inflicting their will on the powerless should never be acceptable. Whether it be sex, race, sexual orientation, economic… none of it is ok. The world may never be equal, but we can’t just accept things as fine the way they are. We need to never stop trying to improve things. Anything less is unacceptable and morally wrong.

KNOXVILLE

Last Friday I wrote a post about recent events in Knoxville surrounding a proposed language change to the district’s harassment policy. While I write a lot about MNPS, I try to keep my eyes and ears open for other interesting education stories across the state and even nationally. Unfortunately when covering those stories I’m more at the mercy of the local press than I am with Nashville stories. Which means sometimes I fall short in capturing the whole story.

Luckily when I do so, somebody local usually steps forward and presents a deeper picture of what’s going on. I’m eternally grateful when people do that, as I’m just one guy trying to share as much info as possible. In this case, Jennifer Owen, the Knox County school board member from District 2, was kind enough to share her insight, and I feel it’s important to share her thoughts here instead of letting them get lost in the comment section:

The information regarding the Knox County Superintendent and Board is not accurate. Superintendent Thomas did not recommend any language change. It was listed as “recommended by the superintendent” in the agenda, largely due to habit. (Prior superintendents brought changes forward from the committee, which was administrative, rather than a committee of the Board with noticed meetings.) That has since been corrected, to more accurately reflect that policies have been reviewed by the committee and are being sent forward as such, rather than appearing that the superintendent recommends or carries forward any changes that come from the committee. I think this will be a great improvement, regarding transparency, as the community will have more accurate information regarding who or what department or committee is responsible for agenda items.

I was in that first committee meeting where this policy was discussed and the only changes, beyond legal references at the bottom, came from Board members – not from the superintendent, the law department, or anyone else, as has repeatedly been reported. It should be noted that no reporters or private citizens attended that meeting, meaning original reports (and many follow-ups) were put together largely from conjecture and from what people assumed, before they spoke with anyone who was actually there. That misinformation has been very difficult to correct.

Though I would like to agree with your optimism, there was, in fact, quite a lot of name-calling, villification, and other nastiness. It came from people reacting, before discussing – and much of it could have been avoided had people talked to their Board members before reacting in other ways.

New policy language could not have been supported by the Board, as there was no vote until October. Reports that the Board “planned” or “intended” to change anything were not true, since the Board ONLY has power as a whole. Without an initial vote, intention for or against any change could not be confirmed.

Knox County still has a long way to go toward recovering from past administrations and toward trusting that the current administration and Board would rather be working together with our communities than working as adversaries, though we do get a little closer every day.

I’ve been watching Knoxville from afar over the last few years and have come to know several of their exceptional educators. They, like Nashville and Chattanooga, have hired a new Superintendent over the last year. All three districts have taken a different approach to their leadership transition process. Knoxville seems to be working extra hard to secure buy-in from as many stakeholders as possible and therefore have created a blueprint worth studying. At the end of the day, I think theirs will be a positive story.

TN(NOT)READY

Here we go again. Another year and another testing fiasco. To be honest with you, I don’t even know what to write. We’ve been down this road so many times and nothing changes. I suspect that next year I’ll be sitting right here, writing another piece about failed state standardized testing.

Accountability is preached to kids and educators like Moses delivering the tablets, yet administrators continue to sin year after year without repercussions. The MNPS school board creates policy, fails to adhere to it, and nobody says a thing. The TNDOE fails year after year to effectively administer standardized testing and nothing happens. Hell, I saw this weekend that Dr. McQueen was out telling whomever would listen how these past 10 years have set our education system up to soar. How is that possible without an uncorrupted data base and the inability to effectively measure learning?

I love the line that starts off a recent ChalkbeatTN story: “Just when it seemed that this year’s state testing had gone off without a hitch, it has emerged that thousands of exams were incorrectly scored.”

In whose eyes did this year’s testing go off without a hitch? It’s mid-October, and district scores, let alone individual school’s scores, have yet to be released. Which translates to the the data being virtually useless for driving instruction. Sure, sure, an argument could be made that in terms of an overall picture, it could be utilized to potentially spot trends down the road. But can it really? And how is failure to deliver scores in a timely fashion considered without a hitch?

The state releases TVAAS scores that seem to be conjured from the air. If you ever read The Fountainhead, you’ll be familiar with a subplot where the newspaper editor conspires to make a new play a success despite it being absolute garbage. The strategy employed is to have as many of the “in the know” and “wealthy” people publicly praise the play as being brilliant. Apparently the TNDOE has studied the book and feels it can replicate that strategy.

Kids are not stupid, though, nor are they naive. They know bullshit when they see it. And let’s be honest, the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing policy is… bullshit. Successful testing is dependent on those being tested believing that the test has validity. If you really believe that kids and educators find any validity in these tests, then you aren’t spending enough time with kids and educators.

Still, the TNDOE marches on with blinders, like Clydesdales pulling the Budweiser wagon. These unreliable scores are used to determine educational policy, on both state and local levels, and dictate teachers’ professional lives and by de facto impact their personal lives. It’s almost criminal, and yet nobody seems willing to step in and say, “Let’s stop this madness.”

Maybe it will be conservative Republican candidate for governor Mae Beavers who gets the ball rolling. I may not be a fan of hers, but she sums the situation up quite succinctly and appropriately:

“Our teachers are having to spend too much time focused on high stakes tests rather than on teaching. Our kids are forced to focus on tests rather on learning. Once again we are learning that the TVAAS tests, and those who we are paying to score them, have failed us again. Enough is enough.”

Not to be out done, House Speaker and candidate for Governor Beth Harwell has also called for hearings:

“The news that nearly 10,000 TNReady tests were scored incorrectly has resulted in educators, parents, and legislators seeking answers,” Harwell said in a Monday statement. “In addition, the amount of testing has also raised questions. To that end, I have asked Representative Jeremy Faison, the Chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, to hold a hearing on these issues surrounding testing.”

Maybe there is hope.

QUICK HITS

Kids returning to MNPS schools this week will get an opportunity to take a climate survey. Panorama Educational Services is managing the survey and will ensure student privacy. Parents can request a copy of the survey, or opt out their kids, by contacting their schools. Teachers also get a crack at the survey where they’ll be asked questions like, “How possible do you think it is for your students to change how much talent they have?” Oh poor Gregor Mendel.

Come see Robin Hood at Overton HS this week! It opens this Thursday, Oct 19th at 7:00PM. Closing night is Monday, Oct 23rd at 7:00PM. Tickets are just $5.

Over at Hume-Fogg HS, they’ll be celebrating Teen Read Week all this week. Get all those NPL fines waived and read fabulous books along the way. There will be prizes, too!

How awesome of the Honorable State Rep. Brenda Gilmore to stop by to speak with Antioch Middle Prep students during Career Day.

POLL RESULTS

When I first started creating polls, I thought it would be any easy way to increase reader participation. How hard could writing a few questions a week be? Oh, how little did I know.

It’s easy to write questions that will garner the responses you want. It’s a lot harder writing neutral questions that bring in broader feedback. It’s also proven challenging for me to figure out just which questions will garner responses and which ones will garner indifference. I’ve yet to to get a handle on that challenge.

Questions that I think will provoke a lot of response often don’t. And the opposite holds true as well. This week is a case in point. I still saw the normal 500 people viewing the post, but of those 500, only 72 responded to the fall break question, and less than 60 responded to the school board questions. Last week, 127 people responded to the question on community superintendents. I don’t know what inference I can draw from those numbers, but it is worth noting. Maybe I could get some guidance from the TNDOE.

Let’s look at results. Question 1 asked what you planned on doing for fall break. Lot of traveling going on out there, as 26% of you indicated that you took a family trip. The number 2 answer, at 25%, was to rest. Sadly, 22% of you utilized the time to get caught up on rest.

I think it’s important to note here that for many MNPS employees, it wasn’t a fall break as much as it was a fall furlough. Many people may not know this, but during fall break, para-professionals, cafeteria staff, crossing guards, and bus drivers are off-schedule and thus, off payroll as well. That’s a whole week without a paycheck for those who can’t really afford it. That’s a lot to ask and hopefully will soon be rectified.

Here are the write-ins:

Worked at my 2nd job 1
College visit (I’ve got a senior!) 1
Kid went to the beach w/ a friend; I wasted time re-watching the Saw franchise:(

 

Question 2 asked for your opinion on the recently completed school board evaluation of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. The overwhelming answer was, at 44%, that there was a disconnect between the board and what happens in schools. The two runner-up answers, with a combined 31%, questioned the transparency of the process. Only 2% said the evaluations were spot on.

Here are the write-ins:

All of the above 1
The clandestine nature of the process is new for MNPS. What are they hiding? 1
Did I miss the teacher input? 1
ALL of the above except spot on 1
Bless their hearts! 1
What planet are these people on? This is not what I see down in the trenches.

Christiane Buggs was recently named Nashville Scene School Board Member of the Year, and I thought I would ask who you would have voted for. Not surprisingly, Amy Frogge continues to get high marks with 34% of you giving her your vote. Mary Pierce continues to be the number 2 most popular vote getter with 17% of you giving her your vote. Everybody else kind of falls into place behind them. Despite his boorish behavior, Will Pinkston managed to come in at third with 10% of the vote.

Before I give you the write-ins, I’d like to point out that I do have a lot of readers in the Antioch area. Not saying anything, just saying:

Anyone else 1
This is like picking the MVP of Cleveland Browns 1
Why is that a category? 1
The one who finally speaks the truth about Dr. J & cronies

Hope you have a great week. You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. And please check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

FALL BREAK WRAP UP

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I hope you Nashville folks have had an enjoyable fall break. Based on my social media feeds, y’all have definitely taken advantage of the time off and made some awesome memories. But like all good things, it must come to an end. Monday will find students and teachers back in the classroom.

Quite a bit happened this past week in education circles. I’ll try to touch on as much as possible, but I promise today’s post won’t be as long as yesterday’s novel on the MNPS director of schools evaluation. Let’s get started.

KNOXVILLE NEWS

I’ve been following a very interesting story out of Knoxville over the last several weeks. Superintendent Bob Thomas, as a member of the policy review committee, recommended that the Knoxville School Board change some language in the district’s harassment policy in order to more closely align with federal and state policy. This was at the prodding of the legal department. The proposed change would have removed the words “actual or perceived gender” and “sexual orientation” from the list of protected groups in the district’s policy and replaced them with the word “sex.”

The board was initially set to vote on this change on September 11th, but due to a firestorm of opposition, the vote was postponed until this past Wednesday. Superintendent Thomas and board members were caught off guard by the reaction and maintained that this change came as a recommendation by the law department, and as Thomas stated, “It was about bringing it [language] in line with state and federal law, so it was not any malicious intent to reduce the effectiveness of the policy.”

While the board felt that the word “sex” would still cover “gender” “and “sexual orientation,” many advocates argued that recent actions taken by the Trump administration didn’t support that view and could leave future students vulnerable. They pointed to a brief filed by the Justice Department in July that asserted that federal civil rights laws do not extend to workplace protections for discrimination based on sexual orientation as evidence of possible future exposure.

In the weeks preceding the tabled vote, advocates organized and fought against the proposed change. At a board meeting on Monday, several concerned citizens spoke out. Both the mayor and student leaders crafted letters to the school board arguing against the change. On Wednesday, the board voted to keep the language the same. After the meeting, people stayed and thanked the board for listening and taking action. “It isn’t just that you are seeking to protect the people, all people, you’re seeking to protect the corporation, but also by spelling that out, you’re allowing these people to be protected but to feel protected,” said Nancy Mott. “I thank you so much for being willing to retain the language.”

This story fills me with optimism. It demonstrates just how powerful democracy is when it works. Board members believed they had a better way, concerned citizens believed differently. There was a robust conversation, sans name calling and vilification, which led to a decision that seems to have pleased everyone.

To be honest, I know that some board members did feel vilified. “I feel like this board has been almost accused and condemned in how we’ve handled this, that we’re insensitive or somehow in favor of discrimination or harassment, which is just an absurd thing,” said board member Tony Norman. I can only say that in all my reading, advocates argued for policies not against personalities. There are many lessons for all of us here, and both sides walk away as heroes.

LITERACY TALK

Next Tuesday is an MNPS board meeting. As part of the agenda, there will be a discussion on MAP testing. Y’all need to listen up to this.

On Wednesday, the Mayor’s Literacy Council held a press conference announcing plans to double third grade literacy rates by 2025. As an impetus for this action, they quoted the oft-repeated statistic that 2 out of 3 third graders are not reading on grade level. This statistic drives me absolutely nuts because it is not supported by actual data.

TCAP results are often cited as the basis for the statistics, but TCAP is, first of all, not a “reading” test and secondly, its results are two years old. The other aspect of this statistic I find bothersome is the use of the term “on grade level.” What exactly does that mean? Grade level is a semi-arbitrary term set by education experts based on their suppositions of what a child should be able to accomplish at each level. Let me be clear – I’m not saying there are no issues. What I am saying is let’s have an honest conversation.

One good thing district leaders did last year was introduce MAP testing. MAP is a nationally normed test that solely measures reading and math. It gives us a test that directly shows how our kids perform comparatively to kids across the country. It’s also an intuitive test: as kids answer questions, the degree of difficulty rises. What MAP does is allows us to have an honest conversation.

The MAP results being presented tell an interesting story. The test was administered in the fall of 2017 and then again in the spring and the fall of 2018. I don’t want to get too into the results before Tuesday’s board presentation, but I do want to point out a few things in hopes that it will lead to questions and further explanation.

  • Scores were the highest in the fall of 2016 with 51.3% scoring in the average or above quintile. In the spring that number fell to 46.3% before rebounding this fall to 50.3%. The higher number in the fall is surprising because the test was administered shortly after a return from summer break where kids would be presumably engaged in less reading. The improvement held true for both black and Hispanic children as well, with the former scores increasing by 5.2 percentage points and the latter by 3.8 percentage points.
  • Third graders scored very low on the testing at 47.7%. But what I find more disconcerting is the drop in scores from fall 2016 when they scored at 52.8% to Spring 17 when the number was 49.1% to fall 2017 when the number fell again to 47.7%. I hope somebody has an answer for that one.
  • While third grade certainly needs love, sixth grade needs it just as much. The sixth grade score was 47.5%, which was .2% lower than the third grade score.
  • Also, why are second graders our second highest performers at 52.5%, while third graders are among the lowest at 47.7%?
  • Math scores are not very encouraging, but I’ve predicted that based on our history of running back and forth between focusing on literacy and math. Seems like it’s always one or the other.

UPDATE: Here’s why it’s good to be married to a teacher. The wife just pointed out to me that I need to compare spring 2016 with fall 2017 to get an accurate read. When I look at things that way, I notice that growth for 2-3 is minimal. But when you get to 4-8, the increase is huge. Sixth grade to seventh goes up 9 percentage points. Seventh to eight grade is 7.2% points. Those are big jumps over the summer. I’ve always said I don’t have all the answers, just a lot of questions.

These are just my takeaways, and it is entirely possible that I could be reading things all wrong. We’ll all find out on Tuesday at the board meeting. I encourage everyone to either attend, watch on Channel 3, or follow on Twitter via Amanda Haggard or Jason Gonzales.

QUICK HITS

Congratulations to MNPS School Board member Christiane Buggs for being named by the Nashville Scene as school board member of year.

On October 24th, from 8am to 10:30am, Community Achieves will be hosting a Learning Summit at Pearl Cohn High School.

The next ProjectLit Book Club meeting will be this Friday at Maplewood HS at 7:30am. This month’s book is The Hate U Give. People who’ve read this one have ranked it up there with Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders.

Chalkbeat TN has a great story about students being taught how to be advocates for their own education. Cool read.

Over at Teach Run Repeat, Josh has an interesting post on Nashville’s perceived teacher attrition problem. I don’t know that I agree with him, but he does present a solid counter argument. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.

Did you really think that we’d seen the end of problems with last year’s TNReady tests? Yea… guess again. According to TNDOE, about 9,400 TNReady tests across the state were scored incorrectly. According to ChalkbeatTN, 900 Tennessee teachers could see their growth scores change. The error affects 1,700 teachers statewide, or about 9 percent of the 19,000 Tennessee teachers who receive scores. About 900 of those teachers had five or more students missing from their score, which could change their result. All I can say is that this is a dumpster fire from this vantage point. At this point I’m not sure what it’s going to take for somebody to be held accountable.

Two MNPS schools will get new principals come Monday. Haywood principal Edward Barrios has decided to pursue other opportunities. Word on the street is that Megan Galloway will assume the position. Buena Vista principal Michelle McVicker is out for undisclosed reasons. No word on the street yet on who will be assuming her duties and whether it’s a temporary move or permanent.

Special thank you to all the MNPS educators who took time to meet with me during this fall break. I never stop learning from y’all.

POLL QUESTIONS

Let’s talk fall break, director evaluations, and school board members of the year with this week’s poll questions.

Growing up, I don’t think fall break was as big a deal for us as it has become today. I look at my social media threads and see trips all over the country and some abroad. Then there are the Webers, who just stay home and fight with their kids. What did you do with your fall break?

Yesterday I posted the majority of the director’s evaluation by the MNPS school board. What are your thoughts? About right? What you expected? Out of touch? You tell me.

Lastly, the Nashville Scene awarded Christiane Buggs school board member of the year. I want to know who Dad Gone Wild readers would give it to.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the weekend. As always you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

WHAT IF YOU DID A DIRECTOR EVALUATION AND DIDN’T TELL ANYONE?

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The Board shall strive to evaluate the Director twice annually. Each January, following the mid-point of the school year, the Board will administer a formative evaluation of the Director based on factors including but not limited to formative student assessment data. Each June, following the end of the school year, the Board will administer a summative evaluation of the Director based on factors including but not limited to summative student assessment data, as well as student and educator culture/climate survey data. The formative and summative evaluation instruments will be determined by the Board’s Director Evaluation Committee.

That is B/DR-5 of the MNPS school board governance policy. As a public service, I’ll add in the definition of formative/summative in this graphic. 

 

I include this chart because back in February – I know, it was supposed to have been done in January, but maybe they did it January 31st – the board performed an evaluation of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, and in the words of board member Will Pinkston, “I am pleased to say Dr. J has straight A’s.” Which, based on the above chart, would make January’s evaluation a “summative assessment.” But let’s cut them a little slack – this was a newly amended policy and since, under board member Sharon Gentry’s leadership, there hadn’t been an evaluation for two years… this was an improvement. They’d get the second one done on time and it would be a summative assessment.

Well, June came, and no evaluation was completed. July came, no evaluation. August came, no evaluation. September came, apparently no evaluation. October came and… wait, what? There was an evaluation in September and nobody said anything? Yes, there was and it was… wait for it… a formative evaluation. Now picture with me a moment, if a student were to turn in an assignment 3 months late that did not meet the criteria of the assignment, what grade would they receive?

I’m going to refrain from speculating on why you would do an evaluation and not tell anybody it was completed. I’m also going to refrain from commenting on why I have to do an open records request in order to secure a copy of the evaluations. Instead I’m just going to share some portions of the evaluations, with minimal commentary from me, and allow you to evaluate for yourself.

Each board member was asked to offer an evaluation in 5 different subcategories – Board Relations, Community Engagement, HR and Human Capital, Budget, and Communications. I’ll review the evaluations in the same fashion. A little bit of warning here: this is a long post. As much as possible I’ve attempted to let the voices of the board members speak for themselves and for you to draw your own inferences from them.

BOARD RELATIONS

As expected, Dr. Joseph gets rave reviews under this category. According to Board Member Amy Frogge:

The impact of Dr. Joseph’s efforts to improve board relations cannot be overstated. This has been his greatest strength. Dr. Joseph has managed to unify a fragmented board, and board relations remain exemplary.

Board member Tyese Hunter writes:

Through his leadership and guidance, board member relationships have improved. He instituted intensive training provided by the Arbinger Foundation which was received very well by board members. This has directly impacted both the quantity and quality of work that the board was able to produce over the past year.

Board Chair Anna Shepherd writes:

Dr. Joseph tries to lend an ear to each and every one of the member of the MNPS BOE. We are nine very different people all compassionate around the topic of educating our students. That balancing act can make life difficult for him, but he takes our idiosyncrasies all in stride and attempts to respond to our varied needs and areas of focus.

Vice-Chair Jill Speering says:

As a result of the board’s work with Arbinger, board relations have turned around. I am appreciative to Dr. Joseph for the respect he demonstrates to the board. His work has been instrumental in changing the way board members function individually and as a group.

The praise of Dr. Joseph’s ability to unite a board that, in the past, has not been very coherent, is an interesting place to start in our evaluation review. I have to interject here, but my observations of the board over the past year have left me with a very different impression. The board has kinda acted like two parents who pretend that everything is rosy in front of the kids and then proceed to have brutal fights after the kids have gone to bed. The problem is that the kids can always see right through the charade and start to form an attitude of “If you are not telling the truth about each other, what else are you not telling the truth about?” Based on interactions I’ve observed in committee meetings, board meetings, and public appearences, I’d be curious of how many people know where their copy of Leadership and Self Deception is located. I read the book and seldom see evidence of its implementation.

COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT

Board Member Will Pinkston heaps bigly praise on Joseph in this category. As a side note, does anybody else notice how positively Trumpian he sounds at times? Sorry, had to interject. Here’s what he says:

In Dr. Joseph’s first year on the job, MNPS prioritized community engagement in an extraordinary way. We’ve undertaken more extensive and robust community engagement than has ever occurred in the history of the school system. In doing so, Dr. Joseph has raised the bar and set the standard for the future. Teachers, parents and taxpayers routinely tell me they’re grateful. Let’s keep up this great work.

Christiane Buggs writes:

Dr. Joseph has done a wonderful job of reaching out to and regularly engaging different subgroups/communities in Nashville. Minority communities have traditionally been left out of conversations of significance regarding MNPS. This is no longer the case as Dr. Joseph reaches out to all neighbors, often with a translator(s) in tow. The Listen and Learn sessions are a staple that community members have come to appreciate, and have been used to garner feedback on most large scale decisions related to MNPS. He took on the daunting task of visiting every single school in our district as well as working with many different public/private organizations around the city. Although we as a board did not do a good job of shielding him from inappropriate media scrutiny, he has not shied away from working with the community at large.

Amy Frogge opines:

Community engagement is another strength. Dr. Joseph has worked hard to include a wide variety of stakeholders in our school improvement efforts, which has helped create buy-in to the new strategic plan. As the board clarifies goals and needs, the community will be provided with a roadmap of how to best support our efforts. This should help keep everyone focused on the same goals, thereby increasing our chances of making headway on student outcomes. This year, I hope we find more ways to expand opportunities for parent engagement/input and provide more opportunities for informal discussions with teachers, principals and other staff members who wish to be heard.

Dr. Gentry was a little less effusive:

Proactively reaching out to the various facets of the Nashville Community has been a consistent practice in Dr. Joseph’s administration. From large community meetings, to speaking engagements, active involvement in civic organizations, to one-on-one meetings with stakeholders, Dr. Joseph has managed to make and maintain this as a priority.

I’m going to refrain from commenting here and just let you form your own opinion. You may agree with these assessments, you may not.

TALENT AND HUMAN CAPITAL

I thought that everyone had agreed that the term “human capital” was offensive and we got rid of it last year. Apparently not. Things get a little interesting in this category.

Dr. Gentry divides her evaluation into central office and school staffing:

Central Office staffing has been an ongoing activity since Dr. Joseph’s hiring. He has surrounded himself with accomplished and highly competent senior level staff. These individuals bring with them experiences and strategies that are “new” to Nashville; not only new to our staff, schools and community but also to us as a Board. There are still vacancies to be filled, and with the budget challenges Dr. Joseph has had the foresight to keep the work at the forefront and contract for the talent that we are still lacking internally.

Hmmm… In the school category, she states:

We still have several positions to be filled within our schools, but this is not a phenomena that is unique to Nashville. What is not clear is the strategies that are being implemented to compensate for the shortage in hard-to-staff academic areas and the effectiveness of those strategies. The development of the position of Zone Superintendent was a strategic move that will help get clearer, more accurate and timely resources to our schools and our building leaders.

Tyese Hunter adds:

Dr. Joseph has brought diverse and quality leadership to his senior leadership team. There were a number of new senior leaders, and they faced challenges within the school district as he and his team began to change how we do business. His team effectively navigated a complex and political working environment, and they successfully managed change. The new community superintendent structure and providing resources based upon equity has the potential to accelerate our performance. We continue to have challenges recruiting and retaining teachers as is the case across the country. Dr. Joseph prioritized raises for employees, and he created an office of organizational development which will enable us to build the capacity of leaders. Hopefully, these two steps will have an impact on recruitment and retention. Despite the challenges, Dr. Joseph was able to retain 83% of our teachers, with the national average being 84%.

A couple board members do raise concerns in this category. Amy Frogge raises some issues that I’m sure will encourage teachers and administrators:

My greatest concerns lie in the area of talent and human resources. MNPS continues to struggle with staffing (recruitment and retention) and has not found a way to avoid the effects of a nationwide teacher shortage. At our recent board meeting, leaders from Human Resources shared a variety of data that highlight our challenges and offered steps toward potential solutions. Continuing to conduct exit surveys, attempting to address state-level licensure changes, working with local teacher unions- through collaborative conferencing and otherwise, conducting impartial school climate surveys, focusing on competitive pay, and providing forums where teachers, principals and staff members truly feel comfortable expressing their concerns will help to improve our outcomes as a district. I hope that this year, we can elevate the educator voice as we move forward with our plan for improvement.

I am concerned that we may not have the right leaders in place to implement our new vision for the district. Effective leadership is vital to accomplishing our goals, and how we manage implementation over the next year will be critical. I am also concerned that at least some district employees do not feel free to speak openly about issues. Finally, I am concerned that some schools have lost large numbers of teachers over the past year, indicating probable leadership issues. Although I appreciate the focus on encouraging continuity in leadership (i.e., avoiding flip- flopping principals) in order to build greater school stability over time, the Director and his staff must also be willing to act swiftly when problems continue and improvement does not occur.

Even Pinkston added a touch of criticism here:

Building a great team following longstanding conditions of a rotten organizational culture is incredibly difficult. Missteps and miscues are inevitable when dealing with one of our greatest democratic institutions — public education. This work is, and always will be, imperfect. I’m underwhelmed by some hires, but I trust Dr. Joseph to make personnel decisions and changes as he sees fits. I appreciate the focus on professionalizing the HR office, which is arguably the single most important thing we can do in the Central Office. Please expedite efforts to repair the relationship with SEIU and ensure that we remain on sound footing with MNEA. Happy employees mean a happy institution.

Board member Mary Pierce best summed things up by writing:

Talent will drive the academic change our students’ needs, so let’s keep prioritizing the development of this department.

I have a lot to say on this section, but I’ll try to keep things brief. There seems to be an attempt to hide behind a national teacher shortage to justify our shortcomings. I want to make sure that people remember the chart presented at a board meeting over the summer that showed that we’d eased the attrition of first and second year teachers, but four- through ten-year veterans were leaving at an increased rate compared to the previous year. These are experienced teachers; they know what the profession requires. If they are leaving, we need to figure out why. You can’t fill a leaky bucket without plugging the holes.

The second point I need to make is in regards to central office. Does anybody really believe that we have upgraded in that area? I keep asking for someone to name me one person who is a dramatic upgrade to the person who was replaced. When you support your literacy program with data from the mid-nineties, there is a problem. When you routinely hire people in leadership roles who have never been in a classroom, there is a problem. When you hire people for positions of leadership who have questionable personal backgrounds, there is a problem. I would urge a deep dive into evaluating whether or not we have the right people in the right positions.

BUDGET

This is probably the vaguest category just because of the lack of data to analyze. We’ll have a better picture by the end of the year. But board members did use this category to heap praise on Dr. Joseph.

Pinkston writes:

After working in and around governmental budgets for more than 20 years, I am continually impressed by the transparency and logic of the MNPS budget process. I commend staff who, each year, “turn square corners” on a complex budget that represents more than 40% of spending in the Metropolitan government. Moving forward, we need to do a better job making the case that MNPS is a chronically under-funded school system. Part of this is due to inadequate state funding. Speaking plainly about this problem is the first step to resolving it. Let’s discuss a strategy for better advocating for adequate resources to support our students and teachers.

Shepherd writes:

During the last budget cycle, Dr. Joseph and his team, met often with the Mayor’s office to explain to her and her team the importance of funding our students and initiatives to make them successful. When he was denied the initial budget request, he went to work quickly to adjust our request without sacrificing the budget initiatives that he and his team, as well as the BOE, had identified as important ones

Jill Speering did raise a little concern:

The budget priorities are clear as they align to our strategic framework. I appreciate that Dr. Joseph honored his commitment to fund a 3% employee salary increase even after we learned Metro Council would not likely fund our requested budget. The number of out-of-state consultants gives me reason for pause; however, I am pleased that Dr. Joseph has placed a high emphasis on early literacy and look forward to hearing how the various consultants’ are correlated.

Gentry offered feedback that made me place my forefinger on my chin and say hmmmm:

Given the approved amount of our ask, I believe that Dr. Joseph and his teams have made sufficient adjustments and done an amazing job of working with the resources at hand.

Again, I don’t have a lot to add here, other than I would advise treading very lightly on blaming budget shortcomings on the mayor. But hey, apparently, that’s just me.

COMMUNICATIONS

The communications department was the hardest hit by turnover last year. Familiar faces like Joe Bass, Hank Clay, Janel Lacy, and many lesser known but equally important employees left to explore other options. Are their replacements an upgrade? Well considering that reports are starting to circulate of the Public Information Officer feuding with half the local reporters in town, not to mention various department heads in Metro Government, I’d say the jury is still out. This is the area where most board members took their shots.

Hunter writes:

The communications department has had lots of changes this year, and this instability has caused inconsistent communication at times. Dr. Joseph should continue to focus on staffing the communications department with strong individuals who will begin to communicate more concisely and more proactively with the community. Over the past month, with the addition of the new PIO and communications specialist, I have seen improvement in the number of positive stories that have been communicated about the school district. He should continue to focus on highlighting the positive stories within our school district.

Mary Pierce adds:

Seeing positive changes since recent new hires are filling in the voids left in the spring & summer.

Amy Frogge writes:

Ongoing changes in the communications department over the last year have caused difficulties for the district. However, it appears that MNPS now has the right communications staffing in place to move forward, and communications are improving. I am hopeful that the communications department is now stabilized, and district communications will continue to improve.

Christiane Buggs summed up the general consensus by writing:

MNPS Communications has left a lot to be desired over the past year. Though there may have been competent individuals working in the department, there was not a dedicated team effort to supporting all the needs of the district. Some of these issues have only recently been rectified, but there has been effort (multiple job postings, new hires, etc.) to build a cohesive team. The current department staff have been engaging the community more regularly and more proactively which is a definite plus!

It seems that the board universally feels that the previous communications staff didn’t tell enough “good” stories and that the newer staff members are rectifying that situation. I would caution that there is more to quality communications than just “telling good stories.” If you want to get a read on the quality of communication in the district, I suggest talking to a few principals about the rollout of the homework policy, the grading policy, and the literacy scope and sequence. I would suggest talking to teachers about the clarity of expectations and the communication of district discipline policies. Just telling good stories may make you feel good, but they can also serve as a distraction from what’s really transpiring. We need to always remember that one individual story does not translate into the whole story. While our successes should be celebrated, we need to make sure that the opportunity to create a good story is available to ALL kids.

CONCLUSION

I must admit that upon initially reading these evaluations, I was a little discouraged. The disconnect between the school board, and for that matter Central Office, and what is transpiring in the classroom is very disconcerting. This whole evaluation was primarily centered on Dr. Joseph’s impact on adults. Very little was said about his interactions and impact on our students. Several board members mentioned that Dr. Joseph had managed to visit every school in the district. Wonderful, but when did that become a cause for celebration and not an expectation? Running in and touching the building shouldn’t count as a visit, and all too often that’s what happens.

As I’ve gone through these evaluations and read them deeper, some of my discouragement lifted. There are signs that the disconnect is not as wide as it often feels. There are signs that board members are beginning to openly question things. Unfortunately, there is also evidence of factors besides excellence bearing undue influence. The importance of closely monitoring the director’s actions can not be overstated. Get this wrong, and it could be a decade before the district recovers. Think I’m being hyperbolic? I urge you to study the Garcia years. Study where MNPS was in 2009 when Register took over and where we were in 2016 when Joseph arrived. One was a crisis, the other was a launch pad.

In closing, we must always remember that policies and performance impact real lives. Those veteran teachers who left, the central office folks who moved on, parents who explore other options for their children – those are real people who invested in our school system and entrusted the director of schools and the board to do the right thing. They can’t be just dismissed as the cost of doing business, and calling mistakes that negatively affect dedicated professionals and the students and their families a “misstep” belies the seriousness of that impact. A school district is not a petri dish that you get to tinker with and experiment with before getting things right. Each action has a human cost, and before you ask for that cost to be paid, you need to ask yourself, “Am I exchanging equal value?”

I want to leave things with that warning, I tried to keep board member’s words in the context they were offered. At times, I had to edit for brevity. It was never my intention to paint anybody as wrong or right, but rather merely to inform. I would argue that had all these reviews been released a month ago when they were completed, my sharing would not have been needed. If you’d like your own copy of the reviews, drop me a line at norinrad10@yahoo.com or you can request a copy through MNPS.

A LOOK AT THE MAILBAG AND POLL RESULTS

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I often get emailed things that just don’t seem to add up on initial inspection and require a little investigation. This past week, I received two very interesting emails. After diving into these queries, I decided that they were worthy of sharing.

TVAAS SHENANIGANS  

The first email came from a teacher who received the following message from the State in regards to her TVAAS score:

Dear Educator,

We wanted to share an update with you regarding your individual TVAAS data.

The department has processed about 1.5 million records to generate individual TVAAS scores for nearly 19,000 educators based on the assessment results from over 1.9 million student tests in grades 2-8 and high school. During the review process with districts, we found that a small number of educators did not have all of their teacher-student claiming linkage records fully processed in data files released in early September. All linkage data that was captured in EdTools directly was fully incorporated as expected. However, due to a coding error in their software, our data processing vendor, RANDA Solutions, did not fully apply the linkage information that districts provided in supplemental Excel files over the summer. As a result, we are working with Randa to ensure that this additional data is included in final TVAAS processing.

You have been identified as an educator with some linkage data submitted via an Excel file that was not fully processed. This means after our statistical analysis vendor, SAS, receives these additional linkage records, you may receive an individual TVAAS score if you did not originally have one, or your individual TVAAS score may be revised to reflect all the students you identified in the teacherstudent claiming process.

Your district’s and school’s TVAAS scores are not affected by this situation given that all students are included in these metrics, regardless of which teacher is linked to them, so no other part of your evaluation composite would change. Moreover, only those teachers with this additional linkage data in Excel files are impacted, so the vast majority of your colleagues across the state have their final individual TVAAS composites, which are inclusive of all student data.

We expect to share your final growth score and overall level of effectiveness later this year. While we do not have more specific timing to share right now, we are expediting this process with our vendors to get you accurate feedback. We will follow-up with more detailed information in the next couple of weeks. Also, as announced to districts earlier this month, the department and your districts will be using new systems and processes this year that will ensure that this type of oversight does not happen again.

Thank you for your patience as we work to share complete and accurate feedback for you. We deeply value each Tennessee educator and apologize for this delay in providing your final TVAAS results. Please contact our office via the email address below if you have any questions.

Respectfully, Office of Assessment Logistics Tennessee Department of Education tned.assessment@tn.gov

I’m going to be the first to admit here, I have no idea what they are talking about in this letter. Neither does the teacher in question. I will say few things make you feel valued like a form letter filled with mumbo jumbo that’s tied to your job evaluation.

I could pick up the phone and call the lovely Sara Gast over at the TNDOE, and I’m sure she would patiently give me an answer. Now I can’t promise that after talking with her I would have any more clarity, but that’s through no fault of Ms. Gast. The problem is inherent in the process itself.

Quick survey here: raise your hand if you would be okay with a job evaluation that you couldn’t explain to a new employee or a friend? Any hands? I don’t see any. Yet that is the evaluation process we are using on teachers.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and questioning on how we are computing TVAAS this year. The challenges are quite unique, given that they started with one test, followed by a year of no data, and then a new test that is completely different the following year. Out of these data bases, a growth score is somehow supposed to be calculated.

So best I can tell, what’s happening is each teacher has a group of kids who took Test A. Then a bunch of those kids took Test B. All those kids, based on past scores, were predicted to score about the same on Test B. If they did, you earn a 3 for your growth score. If they scored higher than they were predicted, you earn a 5, and if they score less, you earn a lowly 1.

Now according to this letter, apparently all of a teacher’s students couldn’t be matched between tests. As a result, there are not enough students accounted for in order to calculate a growth score. Or it could just be that a file wasn’t transmitted. Obviously I’m guessing here, but a veteran teacher left a comment explaining to me that after the tests have been scanned, but before they are scored, each teacher has a list of their students who took the test. To make sure the lists of students “assigned” to a teacher are correct, teachers have to perform a “linking” process, which is where a teacher logs on to a state testing site, reviews the rosters connected to them, and essentially says “yes, those are my students.” In some cases, they indicate if a student was only in class half the year or if they had excessive absences, in which case those students won’t count as much in the overall TVAAS formula. Now the State’s supposition is that it must be these linking files that got messed up in transit.

I know the process is a lot more scientific than what I’m describing and it uses lots of mathematical formulas, words like “cohort” and “indicators,” along with a little smoke and a lot of mirrors. The problem is, at the end of the day, you have an evaluation system that you have to be a statistician in order to understand how the State arrives at a score. That would be fine if that score didn’t carry so much weight, but it carries an incredible amount of weight for educators, schools, and even communities.

That growth score influences a teacher’s future opportunities and employment status, school funding and governance, and district strategies and priorities. All of which, in turn, influence property values and economic growth for communities. Shouldn’t a formula with so much potential impact be a little less opaque than taking a dead cat out to the graveyard at midnight, twirling it around 10 times, releasing the cat while chanting “I am a good teacher” 10 times over, and then waiting to divine the results based on whichever way the wind blows?

In 2014, the Tennessee Education Association sued the State over the use of TVASS scores and lost. However, in light of recent developments and the continued lack of clarity involved in the process, I can’t help but think someone will try again. Teachers in Tennessee deserve an evaluation system that is understandable by everyday people and not one that is reliant on complex verbiage that leads to continual corrections and clarifications.

SHARKS VS. THE JETS

The other email I received last week was from the mother of a Hume-Fogg High School girls soccer player. As many of you know, Hume-Fogg is one of two academic magnet high schools in Nashville – MLK being the other. Both schools are widely recognized as being two of the top schools in Tennessee and in the upper echelon of high schools in the country. It’s safe to say these schools are made up of the best and brightest in the country.

What you might not know, and admittedly I didn’t, is that they also have two of the best girls soccer teams in the county. Last week they were scheduled to square off for the district championship. Not surprisingly, these two teams share a passionate rivalry. Such that at a semi-final game earlier in the week between the two, their respective student bodies ended up squared off in the parking lot for a potential rumble after the game.

How ugly things actually got I don’t know. Reports vary from “no punches thrown” to “it got pretty hairy.” Whatever the case, it attracted the attention of both school principals, who got together and declared that no students would be permitted to attend the district finals game.

In all fairness to the principals, they had issued repeated warning to students on the potential ramifications of their behavior. But I would argue that the punishment was a little harsh. This is the championship game, after all. High school is where we all create memories that stay with us for the rest of our lives.

How many of us can recall with clarity that calculus test you aced senior year? But you probably will remember what it was like to win that championship in front of your peers and family. That validation for all the hard work and sacrifice given to chasing an athletic goal, on top of all the hard work and sacrifice in pursuit of academic excellence is something that will color the rest of a person’s life. It seems to me that an alternate solution could have been found.

The parent who sent me the note had a younger child, in addition to the team member, who wanted to see their sister compete for the championship. Obviously the edict of no student attendance was a big concern for them. I put the parent in touch with MNPS’s Executive Officer of Student Services Tony Majors. Majors, per usual, did his best to help the parent navigate the situation. The edict stood for the championship game, but has since been lifted for future sporting events.

Oh… who won the game? Hume-Fogg did. Congratulations to the 2017 District girls soccer champions.

NATIONAL NEWS

A few national items I’d like to call your attention to.

I often talk about how much sacrifice we demand from our teachers. Education blogger Othmar’s Trombone wrote this week about how teaching has become a profession dependent on self-sacrifice and martyrdom – TEACHING: IF YOU AREN’T DEAD YET, YOU AREN’T DOING IT WELL ENOUGH.

It’s no secret that I am not a huge proponent of STEAM instruction. One of the main reasons being that it relegates the arts to a support status. They are perceived as being valuable only through their relationship to other more academic disciplines. Jay Greene writes this week on that very subject – Arts Integration Is a Sucker’s Game.

While Nashville drags its feet over lead in schools’ drinking water, in Philadelphia, parents are going even further and looking at the lead levels in the dirt of local parks and playgrounds. It’s all quite concerning. Rumor has it there will be another report tonight on lead in Nashville schools’ drinking water by Phil Williams on Channel 5. Let’s see if anyone is paying attention.

Update: Phil Williams did do another story last and it is another eye opener. This one illustrates just who is getting hurt by the high levels in MNPS school’s drinking water. According to the report schools with predominately middle class students have PTO’s that are capable of providing filtration systems for their schools. Higher poverty schools do not have PTO’s that are capable of such an investment. There is one quote by MNPS that really sticks in my craw as it’s thrown out there as a defense.

A Metro Schools spokesperson told NewsChannel 5 Investigates that it could cost up to $2 million to install filtration systems on water fountains throughout the district and up to a million dollars a year just to replace filters.

So? That doesn’t seem to0 steep a price to pay in order to prevent children from being exposed to the health risks of lead in the drinking water.

Once again our school board is silent. With elections for half the seats coming up next year it would be interesting to get their take on camera.

If you’ve been keeping up with the data wars between the TNDOE, Memphis, and Nashville, here’s a story you might want to put on your radar – Data breach exposes hundreds of Palo Alto High records.

Infinite Campus is the tool that MNPS uses to provide parents information about their kid’s academic performance. It’s a national company that is also utilized by the Palo Alto school district. Last week Palo Alto high school records were leaked. The leak from the Palo Alto Unified School District’s Infinite Campus electronic locker system included names, student identification numbers, and weighted grade-point averages for Palo Alto High sophomores, juniors, and seniors.

POLL RESULTS

I think I have a bit of a reputation for being overly critical of MNPS leadership. One that may or may not be deserved. I will always argue that you are hardest on the ones you love the most. In creating each week’s poll questions, my goal is to gauge the general opinions of readers as well as looking to affirm that I am covering things in an accurate manner. I never create questions for the sole purpose of cementing negative opinions.

The underlying goal of the questions is always to foster conversations. So while I suspect questions will get negative responses, I still hope that the opposite occurs. This week’s questions fell into that vein. I knew what I thought the answers would be, but hoped for positive news. While I wasn’t fully countered on my assumptions, I do believe that there are positive threads woven into the answers given. Let’s look at the responses.

The first question asked you to grade the district for the just-completed first quarter. Fifty-four percent of you responded that the district was failing to meet expectations. That certainly is not good news. Thirty-nine percent of you, though, responded in a manner that indicated that the district was either meeting expectations or moving in that direction.

I translate that to indicate that while there is still not widespread buy-in to district leadership, the people doing the day-to-day work are finding ways to overcome the obstacles presented. They are still finding a way to make things happen, instead of just throwing their hands up and capitulating. It says a lot about the dedication of the teachers and administrators in MNPS. Hopefully, district leadership will take notice and begin to remove some of those obstacles and free up our talented educators to get more done. Here are the write-in votes:

Bending under the weight of all this homework and literacy plan 1
Please fire Dr. Felder-she’s ruining our system 1
Teachers = Meeting , Central Off. = Fails 1
Excellent at overwhelming teachers.

Question two asked for an opinion on the recently-completed districtwide Educator Voice meetings held last week between teachers and district leaders. Thirty-two percent of you indicated that you didn’t attend because you were just too busy. Seventeen percent of you felt that it was a waste of time. But, here’s the positive, fifteen percent of you answered, “Don’t think it will change anything, but happy for the opportunity.”

That shows a cracking of the door. Take into account that nine percent of you felt like the district was interested in what you had to say, and I think there is some room here to work. Hopefully district leadership, specifically Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, heard a concern at one of these meetings that can be used to immediately demonstrate that they were listening. Quick response to a raised concern could possibly begin to turn opinion, or if ignored, cement it. Eyes will be watching.

I would suggest, though, that in the future, extra care be given to arriving on time. As my dad used to say, “Not respecting my time demonstrates that you don’t respect me.”

Here are the write-in votes:

Just like the parent and community sessions–only for appearances 1
Dr. Joseph was late causing me to leave before being able to voice concerns. 1
Parents are given more time/grace to attend important events. bad timing. 1
Didn’t go, wanted to go, felt it would be frowned upon to be open and honest 1
waiting to see if we were heard 1
It was too darned late for high school teachers. We are early to bed. 1
Didn’t go due to a school function 1
Please investigate the Trevecca Doctorate Program 1
didn’t go, because I didn’t expect much from them 1
Inconvenient time too late after work and nothing would come of it anyway. 1
Attended, voiced opinion, but nothing will change

The last question asked for feedback on the newly-created community superintendent position. Thirty-one percent indicated that you hadn’t seen any change across the district. The number two answer, at 27%,  was that they seem to work hard, but you are not sure what they do. I would venture to say those two responses sum up the problem pretty succinctly. The CS’s needed to be a lot more visible in both schools and the community, and their hard work needs to be tied to tangible visible results. Hmmm…. now who else does that apply to?

One person did respond that they were “knocking it out of the park.” I want to thank Damon Cathey for participating in this week’s poll. (That’s just a joke.)

Here are the write-ins:

They are doing the work Dr. Joseph doesn’t want to appear in person to do. 1
Smoke screen while Prince George’s County ruins us

There you go. MNPS is on fall break this week, so I hope many of you are out recharging your batteries. If you wish to contact me, you can do so at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

MISSION IMPOSSIBLE

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This morning I feel like Peter Graves in the old Mission Impossible TV show.

Your message, should you choose to accept it, is to write a blog post covering all that has transpired in Tennessee education this past week. Your post must be under 3000 words and it must contain as many positive elements as possible – ok, at least some. In the event of discovery, any acknowledgment of your actions will be disavowed. This message will self-destruct in 30 seconds.

Let’s see how I do.

STATE OF TESTING IN TENNESSEE

This week the tossing of bones by the the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE) continued with the release of new testing data. A couple of weeks ago, it was the TVAAS scores. This week it was the state results for TNReady for grades 3-8. The district and individual scores will get tossed in the coming weeks. I love the headline of the story in Chalkbeat TN: The report card is in for Tennessee grade-schoolers. It’s not good, but it’s expected.

The article goes on to explain that two-thirds of kids in Tennessee in grades 3-8 scored below grade level in English Language Arts – note that I said “English Language Arts” and not “reading.” Math’s scores were only a little better. The explanation given was as follows:

The low scores for English and math for grades 3-8 were expected under the state’s transition to a new test aligned for the first time with more rigorous Common Core standards, which have been in classrooms since 2012. (Tennessee students had performed significantly better on its previous TCAP exams, which did not emphasize critical thinking skills and were based on outdated academic standards.)

In other words, we gave our kids an exam that we knew they wouldn’t do well on because we thought it was a better test. As a parent, when I get my kid’s results back, am I’m supposed to look at them and say, “Hey, I expected you to do bad. It’s ok.”  What am I supposed to answer when they ask, “Then why did you make me take it? Aren’t tests supposed to be about what I know, not what I should hypothetically know?” I won’t have answer other than to say, “In Tennessee we value assessment over acquisition. Acquisition is only valuable as a validation tool for the assessments.” I know, it should be the other way around, but…

Everybody at TNDOE is talking about how much better this new test is and how it is more rigorous than our previous tests. But when I ask, how do we know that? I get no clear answer. It seems to me that the reasoning is this test is a better and harder test because it’s more closely aligned with standards and more kids failed than before.

Let’s approach this in a different manner, though. Say I run a 5k race annually and each year my timing goes up a little bit, so I’m feeling like I want something different to challenge me. After year 5, I change to a 10k race. My time for that race is substantially lower. What conclusions can I draw from that difference in time? Am I really not that good a 5k runner? Is the course really that much harder than the 5k I was running? Is my training off? Am I not that good a runner?

I’d say there are very few conclusions that can be drawn based on comparing the results between my 5k and my 10k time. It could be that the length of the course was a bigger adjustment than I anticipated. It could be that conditions were worse on the day I ran the 10k vs the 5k. It could be that one course was flatter and one was more hilly. A kid could be good at bubble-in questions, but not write-ins. How do we know that improvement isn’t contingent just on familiarity with the course? Or the test?

I know people will argue that we should all be training to run hills instead of flat races. But does running hills well really indicate that I am a better runner? Terrain is just another variable. My liberal arts education always taught me that in order to get the most accurate measurement possible, you need to remove as many of the variables as possible.

One year of data is not a real indication of anything other than this: kids are not very good at taking this test. In order to draw any meaningful conclusions, you would have to have a set of data that you could analyze for trends. Simply taking a 10k race and comparing its results to the results of a 5k race, just because both are races, is not a valid means to draw conclusions about a runner’s abilities. The same holds true for students and testing.

Yet, the TNDOE feels comfortable ignoring the plethora of problems they’ve encountered administering the test over the years and declare, according to State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, the following:

This is a key moment for our state, as we are now transitioning to the point where we have a true understanding of where students are from elementary through high school, and we can use that information to better support their growth.

How? Based on what? Say your doctor comes to you and says, “After putting you on the treadmill, I think you are going to need a knee replacement.”

Do you rush out and get that knee replacement? Or do you say, “Whoa, Doc. Let’s do a few more tests. Let’s get a little more data before we do anything extreme.”?

It’s in this light that I suggest we might want to slow the accolades and proclamations down a bit. The next couple weeks, as more results get released, should prove interesting.

WHO NEEDS TEACHERS?

Here’s another question for you: If I put together a council to address the needs for affordable housing in the city and I don’t put any builders on the council, what would you think of my council?

What if I put together a council to come up with solutions to crime, and I don’t include any police officers?

That’s essentially what we’ve done in Nashville when it comes to literacy. The mayor’s office and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), along with the Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF), recently assembled a council, the “Nashville Literacy Collaborative,” to develop a plan to increase student literacy in Nashville. According to the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success they released this week, they challenged themselves to “think bigger, dig deeper, and come up with a plan to accelerate action.” But not bigger and deeper enough to notice that there were no classroom teachers sitting among them.

Right now, some of you may be saying, “Wait a minute, I saw some professional educators on the list.” Yes, there was the Chief Academic Officer, and a literacy coach, and a principal who doesn’t even have a doctorate – though we are currently paying for half her tuition in a doctoral program at Trevecca University to rectify that status. There wasn’t one single person who is charged with improving the literacy level of our kids on a one-to-one level daily, i.e., a classroom teacher. Man, if you don’t think that sends a message.

While there is a lot of good information, and a few solid recommendations, in the blueprint, I do have some issues with the report. But in keeping with my mission, I want to focus on three.

Look at the headline included with the blueprint:

2 in 3 Nashville third-graders are not reading on grade level.

Scary, isn’t it? Horrific! Crisis-level, right? But it is accurate?

Ask somebody on the panel where they are drawing this data from. Ask them to define what grade level means. I’m sure it’s referenced somewhere in the report, but for the sake of brevity, let’s go to Jason Gonzales’ article in the Tennessean:

About 34 percent of the district’s third-grade students left the 2014-15 school year without the appropriate level of literacy skills, as determined by the state. The number was under the state’s older, less rigorous TCAP test.

Now refer back to earlier in this post where I pointed out that TCAP was not a reading test. It encompasses both grammar and spelling. Look at the year attached to the data set, 2014-2015. Due to testing problems, the most recent data we have is 2 years old. So we are making a proclamation based on a test that is not solely a measurement of reading and is arguably outdated.

I hear the chorus rising, “But TC, we have other tests…” True. Last year, the district implemented MAP assessments for the entire district. So let’s look at those results and see what they show. They may show the same number of kids not reading on grade level. But at least we’d be using current and more accurate numbers. The MAP testing numbers should be included in the report, but unfortunately they are not.

Now about that “grade level” thing. Ask anybody what it means and most will tell you it means kids are performing at a level comparable with most kids at that grade level. Sounds great so far, right? But how is that level determined?

Back when dinosaurs walked the earth, better known as “when I went to school,” standards were determined by a bell curve. All the kids in each grade would take the test and then teachers would review the answers. And if you fell in line with most of your peers, you were on grade level. If you scored on the high end, you were above grade level. If you were on the low end, below grade level. It wasn’t perfect, but at least it was rooted in an explainable formula.

We don’t do things like that anymore. What happens now, in the enlightened age, is we get a group of people involved in education together – notice I didn’t say educators – and they hash out what they think, based on their experiences and the demands of future employers, kids should know. It’s not quite as arbitrary as I make it sound, but it is pretty arbitrary, and in my opinion, should be taken with a grain of salt. Especially when people are using it as a tool to scare you.

I am not saying there are no issues and that improvement is not needed. What I am saying is that if we are going to design and prescribe policy, let’s do it with defined terms, accurate data, and include people who do the work daily. I don’t think that I am asking for anything crazy.

The next point I want to draw your attention to in this Blueprint is about our English Learners program. The blueprint lists “20 Truths that frame our thinking.” Here is Truth Number 16 (from page 27):

There is a need for more innovative supports for children learning English.

According to MNPS, 20 percent of elementary students are English-language learners. These numbers are rising at a particularly rapid rate. However, proficiency with ELL students has been fairly stagnant over the last several years.

Classroom instruction and interventions need to be tailored to build upon each child’s unique background. Research shows that instruction that works to build comprehension and context is more effective than an overemphasis on basic skills and ELL instruction that incorporates native or primary language leads to higher literacy achievement. Other communities, for example, Palm Springs Uni ed School District, have deployed tiered systems of supports for ELL students that include an out-of-school-time program to support literacy development.

Later in the blueprint, under recommendations, is this (from page 51):

Our district serves an increasing number of English-language learners. Unfortunately, the increase in these families has been so rapid that the district has struggled to keep up both with the volume of need and with cutting-edge thinking and programming. Reaching citywide literacy goals will require we take a more assertive approach to ELL programming. To that end, we recommend that the district:

  • Encourage the district to engage additional expertise to assess current elementary-level ELL services and supports to determine what is needed to accelerate improvements with these students.
  • Forge a partnership between the Nashville Newcomer Academy to share early literacy instructional best practices with schools serving a high number of ELL families.
  • Invest in out-of-school programming speci cally designed to help support language development (e.g., Saturday School for Newcomers, special programming during summer or fall/winter break, tutoring resources). An example of this kind of programming is: – Palm Springs Year-Round EL Learning Model
  • Investigate specialized instructional models and teacher training for high-ELL schools. An example: – Sobrato Early Academic Model

     

I don’t know who made this determination, since there is nobody on the council with any experience in EL instruction. I would have to strongly object to the assumptions made here. In my opinion, there seems to be a concentrated effort as of late to discredit our EL department. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind the attacks are, but I find them disingenuous at best.

Over the last several years, our EL department in MNPS has far surpassed the TNDOE’s prescribed annual measurable outcomes (AMOs). Our program has been recognized for its innovation by numerous national EL-centered organizations, including the Council of Great City Schools, who recently asked our director to present on EL practices at their annual convention.

As a parent of children in one of the most diverse schools in Nashville, Tusculum Elementary School, I have a great deal of insight into our EL programs. What is written in this report is not an accurate representation of what is actually transpiring. In fact, I think it reeks of politics and a hidden agenda. It has no place in a document of this magnitude, and I would argue that it needs to be amended lest it taint the whole Blueprint.

I want to point out one last omission in this Blueprint. Please do not take my criticisms as a dismissal of the good people and their hard work on this Blueprint. I think it’s incredible that Nashville as a city recognizes the importance of and is willing to invest in a city-wide literacy initiative. I would only argue that there just wasn’t enough of the “right” people included in the process. Their exclusion is probably a factor in the most glaring omission in this work.

Nowhere in these recommendations is the simple edict to give kids more time to read in schools. Teaching reading can be a very challenging task, but it also has a very simple component as well. If you want to improve kids reading, have them read more.

Going back to our running analogy. Coaches tell runners, if you want to be a better runner, run more. Don’t like running? Pick any other activity and the same will hold true. If you want to be better at something, you need to do it more. Nobody ever became a great guitar player by only playing at home or once a month. The same holds true for reading.

We have to make kids see reading as a relevant activity. Schools provide the perfect opportunity to make this happen. Increased time for kids to read in school has to be a prime ingredient in any plan to increase literacy. In the words of Maplewood HS teacher Jared Amato:

“My take is that if every kid in grades K-12 had the opportunity to read a brand-new book every single month of the year and talk to caring adults, they will see themselves as readers, and ultimately get better at reading. If we increase access, make reading relevant and make it fun, the results will come.”

POLL QUESTIONS

We’ve only covered a fraction of what I wanted to get to today, but I’m about out of words and we have to get to the poll questions. I’ll have more on Monday. Including the strange tale of Hume-Fogg, MLK, and the district girls soccer championship.

For my first question, since we just finished the first quarter of school and report cards are due, I’d like you to grade the district. We’ll even use their scale – exceeds expectations, meets expectations, making progress towards expectations, or failing to meet expectations.

Question two is about the recent Educators Voice sessions. If you went, what was your takeaway. If you didn’t, why not?

Last question is in regards to the recently created Community Superintendent positions. They’ve been on the job for several months now, so what kind of feedback do you have for them?

That’s it for today. You can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Be sure to check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

TOM PETTY AND ME. I’M HAVING TROUBLE LETTING YOU GO.

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It seems like I’ve been writing a few too many of these memorial type things as of late. But Mr. Petty, as my wife christened him, played such a large role in my life that I could not not write about him. Yesterday’s news of his passing, while it obviously didn’t overshadow the horrific events in Las Vegas, hit me as hard as any “celebrity death” that I can recall. In fact, the only death I can remember hitting me harder was that of John Lennon. Two artists that on the exterior seem vastly different, but upon inspection share a lot of similarities.

To understand the impact of Mr. Petty’s music on my life, you’d have to go back to a skinny, little 14-year-old sitting in his room cranking the stereo. I grew up a military brat, which meant that I was constantly the new kid in town. I may not have been shy, but I was definitely insecure. It seemed like everywhere we moved, everybody else had a friend they’d known since near birth, save for me.

I don’t know exactly when, but a few years before 1979, I discovered the transcendent power of Rock and Roll. Elvis was my first, soon followed by KISS. The music brought a means of expression to the jumbled up, mixed up feelings I had inside and made my weaknesses somehow… all right. In 1978, and I know I was a little late to the party, I dropped the needle on Never Mind the Bollocks and nothing was ever the same.

I dived deep into the wave of Punk Rock that was sweeping through America from England and New York. Remember this was a time when there was no Google search and no Spotify. You discovered some artists through the radio, but the really special ones had to be rooted out like truffles in the French countryside. I was so bitten by Rock and Roll fever that I searched out artists and their music like I was an attorney prepping for a murder trial. I think that having to actively search for your music, as opposed to typing a name in a search box, made the connection all that more tangible.

Obviously, when you put this much work into discovering people and their music, you end up forming a personal connection. Bands like Robert Hazard, the Skunks, the A’s, Legs Diamond, Storm, 707, and countless other forgotten names, still hold an attachment to my heart despite never selling many albums outside their immediate family. Punk seemed to be over in the blink of an eye and was replaced by the much more commercially palpable “New Wave.”

The debates raged hot and heavy over what was “Punk” and what was “New Wave.” The former enjoying a much greater sense of authenticity, while the latter was written off as a commercial creation. I was clearly on the side of “Punk” and proudly wore my badges on my leather jacket.

In 1979, I came across a video of a young singer who was being touted as a punk rocker, or maybe he was new wave. He wasn’t sporting a leather jacket, but that denim and that swagger… well, maybe. That refugee thing kind of resonated as well. The hook was that he looked remarkably like my cousin John. Every time the video would come on we would all gather around and remark on the resemblance while grooving to the music.

I bought Damn The Torpedoes and though I never figured out if he was punk or not, the songs were pretty damn good. For a young man just discovering girls, with decidedly mixed results, songs like “Even the Losers” and “Don’t Do Me Like That” struck an emotional chord and were played on an endless loop.

I remember the anticipation for the album that would eventually become Hard Promises. Months before the album was released, word filtered out that Petty was in a battle with his record company. At that time records cost $8.98 a piece and the label wanted to charge $9.98 for the new record. Petty threatened to call the new release Eight Ninety-Eight. The label backed down, and I thought maybe he is a little punk rock after all.

The “Nightwatchman,” “Thing About You,” and “The Waiting” were the ones that hooked me here. But the songs became less edgy, and I started to gravitate more toward Black Flag, the Ramones, the Scorpions, and Judas Priest. To steal a line from Foster and Lloyd, I guess I just wanted it louder and faster.

So like that friend from high school who decides to go to a different university than you, Mr. Petty’s music and I began to drift apart. It was always in the background and the albums Long After Dark and Southern Accents didn’t go without their spins. But Petty’s music had a safe and comfortable feel to it, and I was too busy exploring other avenues. Sometimes to my detriment.

I moved to Nashville in 1989. The same week as the infamous Petty/Replacements show at Starwood. The Replacements broke into the Heartbreakers dressing room pre-show and donned the band’s wives’ dresses before hitting the stage. I remembered cracking up at this story and siding with the ‘Ments. They were true Punk rockers sticking it to the man. Yeah, I knew nothing.

1989 was also the year that Full Moon Fever was released. Again, like that friend from high school that you reconnect with after years of separation, the memories of just how good Tom Petty was came flooding back. Man, I played the hell out of that record, supplemented by trips back to Damn The Torpedoes and Hard Promises. For awhile, I was full on with our reunion, but again we drifted apart.

1994 meant the release of Wildflowers. 1994 was also about the time my addictions began to slip out of control. I remember “You Don’t Know How It Feels” holding special appeal, but like most things for the next 5 years, it was all kind of a blur. At some point during this time I remember seeing Petty and the Heartbreakers live.

Live, nobody ever touched Mr. Petty and his band. Don’t even bother trying to make arguments, I’ll just slap everyone of them down. Night in, night out, nobody consistently delivered as professional and as musically deft a show as Petty. There were no frills; he didn’t need them. I remember somebody once replying when asked about what effects they use: “A guitar, a cord, and an amp.” That was Petty and his guys.

“Last Dance For Mary Jane” was a song tossed on a greatest hits package, but for a young man approaching middle age who was caught up in the throes of addiction, it became a mantra:

Well I don’t know what I’ve been told 
You never slow down, you never grow old 
I’m tired of screwing up, I’m tired of goin’ down 
I’m tired of myself, I’m tired of this town 
Oh my my, oh hell yes 
Honey put on that party dress 
Buy me a drink, sing me a song, 
Take me as I come ’cause I can’t stay long

Waking up hung over in the morning, walking to the bar, trudging home after too many drinks – those lyrics continued to play in my head. Somehow I pulled power from them to keep surviving at a time when surviving was always in doubt. I guess the romantic in me considered the song as sort of a soundtrack to the rolling of the final credits.

Eventually things shifted, and they served as a foundation for me to get sober and start a new life. To this day, hearing those lyrics brings me back to that perilous time and serve as a reminder of how blessed I am. Instead of serving as a soundtrack to exit, they signify a grand new entrance.

Around 2003, I started to pay more attention to a beautiful young lady I’d known for a number of years. She never paid a whole lot of attention to me, but I always thought there was something about her. We began to date and when she revealed her love of Mr. Petty, I knew this one was a keeper.

I actually don’t know how many times we’ve seen Mr. Petty together. Four, five, six times… it really isn’t relevant because his music was sort of the unofficial soundtrack to our marriage. The music would play around the house continuously. We’d see him live every time possible, often paying more than we could afford in order to get the best seats possible.

The shows brought their own joy, but for me the real highlight was seeing my wife’s glow upon the dimming of the arena lights. Her smile would become huge, and she’d be up and dancing from the very first note, never understanding why everybody else wasn’t doing the same. It seemed like the music unlocked a special place that she kept just to herself, but for 2+ hours at a Tom Petty show, I got a glimpse. And it again reminded me of how blessed I was and continue to be. I’d watch the shows, constantly stealing looks at her out of the corner of my eye.

Yesterday, I was on the way to pick up my kids at schools when I happened to look at a Tweet by, of all people, Jason Isbell:

I can’t think of an important moment in my life without an accompanying Tom Petty song. Every night we walk off stage to his music. So sad.

It was as if I had been punched in the gut. I quickly scrambled to find out what was going on and when I got confirmation, I was stunned. I texted my wife and then shed a tear. “What are you doing?” I thought. “You don’t cry over celebrities.” This was different, though.

I remember when John Lennon died, and I went into mourning. My father came into my room and demanded that I stop this nonsense. “You don’t even know John Lennon and he wasn’t a part of your family.” With Petty, that doesn’t feel apropos.

I never met Mr. Petty, but through his music, I felt like I knew him as much as I knew anybody. Through his music, we had a deep personal connection. One forged over time. And he did bear that uncanny resemblance to my cousin John.

It’s funny we hold musicians like Mr. Petty at a distance, but they worm their way into our stories through their lyrics and notes. Just a couple of those notes, or a toss of a phrase, can conjure up the most precious of memories – births, deaths, marriages, divorces. The really special artists become almost extensions of our personal lives. To the point, and to echo Isbell, we can’t think of an important moment without an accompanying song. That was Mr. Petty to me.

Tom Petty was always like the middle child among his contemporaries. Springsteen was always about racing in the streets and Mellencamp was saving the heartland, while Petty was just living. Funny, visions of “American Girl” being played live evoke the feel of an anthem to America for me. I always picture a girl in a dress swaying to the song with a Miller Lite in one hand and a Marlboro Light in the other raised above her head. What could possibly be more American?

I’m going to miss you, Mr. Petty. Your music began rooted in teenage angst, but you were never afraid to age and grow with the rest of us. I chuckle as I think about your shows as we both grew older. In my younger years, they were rowdy rocking affairs, but as the years went on they tended to get a little slower and the jams seemed to last a little longer. I chalked it up to the pot, but in reflection I think you were just like the rest of us. You weren’t in a hurry to get anywhere anymore, and you just wanted to enjoy the moments a little bit longer.

It was hard to accept living in a world without a Ramone. It’ll be just as hard to accept a world without Tom Petty. Thank you, sir. Thank you for the sign posts. Thank you for the strength. Thank you for modeling how a man can be both a rocker and age gracefully. Thank you for giving us a little extra glue in order to further bond the most important relationship my life.

There is a line by Mr. Petty’s daughter in a recent interview that kind of sums it all up. She asked about what it was like growing up the child of a rock star:

What he was doing was based on a work ethic, and a focus on quality. I wasn’t given the sense that celebrity, or fame, or any of that, was something to be impressed by, or to seek out. It was always impressed upon me that making something well crafted, something respected, was the most important thing to do with your life, and I’ve tried to do that where I can in my field.”

Based on that description, your life was a success, Mr. Petty. Godspeed, and we will miss you. It’s only fitting, though, that you get the last words:

It’s a restless world, uncertain times
You said hope was getting hard to find
But time rolls on, days go by
What about the broken ones?
What about the lonely ones?
Oh honey I’m having trouble letting you go
It’s off in the distance, somewhere up the road
There’s some easy answer for the tears you’ve cried
And it makes me uneasy, makes me feel different
Do you get scared when you close your eyes?

I’m having trouble letting you go.

MONDAY MORNING BLUES REDUX

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It seems that so many of our weeks as of late have started on a note of tragedy. Regrettably, this week is no different. Most of us awoke this morning to news of the horrific incident in Las Vegas. Words escape me to express the sorrow this crime evokes this morning, so I won’t even try. Unfortunately, here in Nashville, members of the Overton Cluster of schools in MNPS were already struggling with those emotions after receiving heartbreaking news on Sunday Morning.

By all accounts, Catherine English was one of those special kids. I know they are all special, but some just have a light that shines a little brighter. She was a Valedictorian, a scholar, an athlete, an ambassador. Currently she was enrolled at Vanderbilt Peabody College. She’d started as an engineering major before realizing that she had a calling to teach. That was fitting because she could often be found around Overton High School conducting tours, sitting on panels, doing whatever she could to help people learn more about MNPS, and specifically the Overton Cluster.

This weekend, she committed suicide. Being a recovering addict myself and having experienced the loss of friends through suicide, I understand the swirl of emotions experienced by those left behind. We’ll always think there is something we could have done. Some kind of sign we could have picked upon. Sadly, the answers never really come and actions can’t be undone. As Bob Dylan observed, “Behind every beautiful thing there’s been some kind of pain.”

What we can do is slow down for a minute and recognize that the world is hard and that none of us are capable of doing this alone. It sounds cliché, but it is so needed. We need to give those close to us an extra hug, an extra smile. Hell, smile at a stranger. It won’t hurt, and who knows, it may make their day a little better. In these days, perhaps the solution lies in what may appear trite. We could all be a little kinder to each other. We could all take a little more time for each other. We could all be a little more open with each other.

Rest in peace, Catherine, knowing that despite what you might have felt inside, you made a difference. Your death will be defined as a tragedy, but your life will be celebrated in others for many years. My heart goes out to all of you struggling to cope today. Words are never enough, but I pray that all of you find some peace.

MEMPHIS LISTENS TO TEACHERS

As MNPS’s leadership gets ready to hold a series of meetings with teachers this week, we should first take a look to Memphis. According to a recent article in Chalkbeat Tennessee, a recent sit-down between teachers and leadership has produced some very positive takeaways. As a result of the recent meeting, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson sent out an email to teachers stating this, among other things:

“It’s very clear to me now that we simply have not done the best job possible supporting you and equipping you to be successful in this instructional shift, We have to do better, and I’ve made it a personal priority to ensure that we are.”

Furthermore, in his email, he promised teachers the following:

  • Collaborative planning support should take place in professional learning coach meetings

  • Remove the weekly lesson planning template from Eureka (the math curriculum) and Expeditionary Learning (the English curriculum). Teachers will still be required to annotate.

  • Dedicate at least one faculty meeting per month to content lesson planning.

  • Provide model lessons implemented by other teachers and offer more variety of professional development sessions to accommodate teacher schedules, including live and virtual sessions at multiple times.

  • Provide example lesson plans for high school end of course test subjects beginning in the second quarter

  • Provide weekly meaning-based guide for teachers in grades 9-12

  • Exclude administrator feedback on instructional planning guides from the district’s online tracker for professional development.

  • He and Chief of Schools Sharon Griffin would communicate more regularly to clarify and reinforce expectations and next steps.

  • Hold biweekly collaboration sessions among district leaders, teachers and union representatives

These promises stand in stark contrast to recent actions by MNPS’s leadership team, who recently took the step of converting all planning days to professional development days. Within these promises by Dorsey Hopson are several ideas that it would probably behoove Dr. Joseph and his team to adopt. It will be interesting to see just what comes up at this week’s teacher voice sessions in MNPS, but Hopson’s actions should serve as an example that teachers speaking up can make a difference.

HILLSBORO TAKES A KNEE

This past Friday night, Hillsboro HS football players emulated NFL players by taking a knee during the playing of the National Anthem before their football game with Beechwood. They were booed by some spectators, but I applaud them. Schools are an important time to find out who you are as a person and to begin charting your future. At a time when the majority of the public is trying to find a way to take an easier path and to omit politics from their life, these players are doing the opposite.

Instead of deriding them or dismissing them, perhaps we should spend some time listening to them. What made them take this action? How is this action reflective of their personal experiences? What research have they done, outside of their personal experiences, to support their position? What other actions do they intend to take in order to better support their position? Almost sounds like the framework of a PBL rattling around in there somewhere.

On a side note, being a military brat, I was raised to always stand for the National Anthem, and as an adult I have continued the practice as much out of habit as anything else. The recent player protests have forced me to re-examine the meaning of patriotism and racial equality. It’s not been a easy self-evaluation, and it’s led to many uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations. I salute those brave enough to force the conversation through peaceful actions. I will always stand out of pride of country. I will never stand because someone – President, administrator, fellow citizen – demands it.

Aunt B over at the Nashville Scene as always, offers some excellent insight into the booing of the Hillsboro athletes who took a knee along with some poignant advice:

In 60 years, no one at that Hillsboro game will admit to booing those brave players. We already know that. Legend already is that every white person is descended from the good slave owners, locked arms with Martin Luther King Jr., and has black friends. The bad actors get the courtesy of white forgetfulness and our commitment to legend over truth.

But how can those athletes forget who booed them — the people who think black people wanting to survive encounters with the police was too trivial an issue to interrupt their amusement?

It’s not fair to ask those players to bear the burden of having to know this terrible thing about their peers while we enjoy the privilege of forgetting. We need to take seriously the suffering of our fellow Americans and stop adding to it.

I encourage everyone to read the whole piece. It won’t hurt you.

RECOMMENDED READING

There are a couple of quality national articles that I would like to draw your attention to this week. The first comes from The Atlantic, where Rachel Cohen writes on the role of education and its relationship to upward economic mobility. She echoes what many of us have said for years: while education is extremely important, it does not directly translate into economic success. There are a lot of other factors that go into determining how successful an individual becomes in life.

I’ve always contended that by putting the emphasis on schools, politicians were able to deflect focus away from other social ills. The myth that education and grit can somehow overcome poverty, addiction, and homelessness has become engrained in our society, and I would argue, to its detriment. Cohen attempts to draw some of that focus back. The whole article is an important read but the final paragraph particularly resonates with me:

Jose Vilson, a New York City math teacher, says educators have known for years that out-of-school factors like access to food and healthcare are usually bigger determinants for societal success than in-school factors. He adds that while he tries his best to adhere to his various professional duties and expectations, he also recognizes that “maybe not everyone agrees on what it means to be successful” in life.

The second article comes via the Business Insider, strangely enough. In this article, Christopher Brown discusses the dangerous path we are on when it comes to kindergarten. As he states in the article:

While this debate about over play versus academics in kindergarten has been going on for decades, the drive towards more academics has not let up. Much of this is tied to the belief that academic performance should be the sole measure of school and teacher effectiveness. So for the past 35 years, policymakers have focused on improving children’s performance by demanding they be taught more academic content and take more tests to monitor their achievement.

While such reforms sound logical, my research around kindergarten is beginning to show that it not only misses the point in terms of what works but also fails to take into account what kindergarteners, parents, school personnel, policymakers, and researchers want.

I wholeheartedly concur. I also want to draw your attention to a quote by a Texas legislator:

“There are all these groups that exist for school choice, school finance, or teacher protections, but where is the group that is literally just working on changing what’s taking place in the classroom on a daily basis? Where’s a group that’s advocating for change in the classroom? And without that, without a strategy, nothing is going to happen.”

QUICK HITS

Props to last week’s most improved students at McKissack Middle School.

Wednesday morning, it’s time for Pastries with Pittman. Come join the Overton principal for a morning treat and a conversation. I’m not sure if it’s the pastry or the conversation that’s the morning treat.

By the way, don’t think I’ve forgotten about issues with substitutes, MNPS’s shortage of math teachers, or why certain principals are out so often. Just so many hours in the day, but I’ll get to those issues and more. Never fear.

Is that low-level rumbling I hear the sound of an approaching storm? Is there change on the horizon? We’ll just have to watch the radar.

It was College Week at Inglewood ES, and it ended, like this section ends, with a dance party! As it should.

POLL RESULTS

This week’s poll questions were targeted to a little bit of a narrower audience, so I’m not surprised results were down a bit. But they were no less interesting.

The first question asked if you planned to attend one of this week’s Educator’s Voice sessions. I really hoped for a different answer, but unfortunately the number one answer was “Why? Nothing is going to come from it?” with 42% of the vote. Not surprisingly, the number 2 answer was, “I can’t see my desk let alone drive across town for another meeting” at 29%.

There are a couple very salient points I need to make here. The first is based on the second leading answer, the district should recognize the amount of work teachers have and made plans for this “discussion” accordingly. Forcing teachers to get in their car and drive during rush hour, in some cases hours after they have ended their day, to a central quadrant location makes things convenient for leadership, but not teachers. Which is probably a contributing factor in why not one person answered this week’s poll question, “Yes. I think leadership is ready to include teacher voices.”

Think about that for a second. I’m well aware that the tone of Dad Gone Wild probably attracts more readers who are going to be critical of the administration, but still, not one dissenting voice? Not a single poll taker felt compelled to indicate that they thought leadership was ready to include teachers. That’s a bit telling, no? Here are the write-in answers, also very telling:

Yes. I will speak up too. It’s my exit interview. 1
It is way too late. I am a high school teacher. My work day ends by 2:30. 1
ENCORE Family picnic 1
I have another mandatory meeting for MNPS at the same time 1
No 1
Both 3 & 4! 1
Nope!!! 1
No because nothing is ever accomplished. All empty commitments & talk-no actions 1
It’s at my bldg so I’ll stop in to listen.

Question number two asked for your favorite outside consultant group currently being used by MNPS. To be blunt, we are spending a lot of money and time on outside groups. Some may be doing good work, the majority, I would argue, are replicating work best done internally. But when you never inventory your in-house capabilities… well, that’s another story for another day.

The number one answer with 42% of the vote was… other. I’ll list those in a minute. The second and third answers were Scholastic with 16%, and Discovery Ed with 11%. Scholastic has been involved in our Literacy effort. Discovery Ed is assisting with the transition of middle schools to the STEAM model. Here are write-in answers, so see if you can spot the trend:

None 4
None of the above 1
Leave me alone, and let me teach 1
None! Money spent that schools could use better 1
Disamayed we aren’t pulling from our own talent 1
Performance Matters used to have Dr J pic on website 1
I miss AAIS and the work that Dave and Robin did. They were great! 1
What the hell do all these people do? 1
This list makes me depressed! Follow the money. 1
Couldn’t they consult the teachers? We’re on the payroll. 1
None of these. 1
Why does Felder need consultants to do her work? 1
PG County 1
none! 1
The state of Maryland. Not. 1
none 1
I am not familiar with any of them 1
E. None of the above 1
Schoology. Oh wait, we don’t use them 1
Institute for Learning

The final poll question referenced all the people who have left MNPS over the last 13 months and asked who you think we should bring back. I have to admit, I was a little surprised by the results to this one. Fred Carr won easily with 25% of the vote. Former Maplewood Principal Ron Woodard came in second with 16% of the vote. One reader remarked to me, “Of course they picked Fred. Love him or hate him, the man knew how to make a decision. A skill currently lacking on this leadership team.” I’d argue Woodard has the same ability but you take away what you choose.

I particularly liked the write-ins on this question as respondents recognized people who are not widely familiar, and I think it’s nice that their contribution is still recognized. On a side note, if you don’t follow Luther Dollar or Tim Drinkwine on Twitter, do so. You won’t be sorry.

All of the above 1
Quincy Ingle 1
Susan Thompson 1
Most were good fires 1
All the teachers that left last year. 1
None of them 1
Becky Gibson 1
anyone but Fred Carr! 1
Dr. David Moore & Dr. Richard Frank 1
No one I can think of. 1
Nobody. I don’t know anything about most of these people. 1
Jay Steele 1
Lawanna Shelton 1
Luther Dollar 1
Sarah Wingfield 1
none of the above 1
None. Let them enjoy life minus MNPS

That does it. I hope you have a good week and find much cause to celebrate with your loved ones. You can reach me at norinrad10@yahoo.com or through the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. By the way if anybody has the ability to take that FB pic and make me a better page graphic… much love.

TEACHER OF THE YEAR, THE POWER OF MCQUEEN, TEACHER POWER, AND POLL QUESTIONS

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I think we’ll start things off this week with a hearty congratulations. Last night, 8th grade West End Middle Prep math teacher Cicely Woodard was recognized by the TNDOE as the Middle School Teacher of the year, reaffirming something those in MNPS have known for a long time. I’ve often heard parents at Eakin ES, the feeder school to West End MS, say that they are excited by the prospect of their children getting Mrs. Woodard as a teacher, and those who have had her class confirm that anticipation.

Mrs. Woodard’s husband is former long-term Maplewood HS principal, and current Number 2 out in Maury County, Ron Woodard. I know Ron is extremely proud of his wife, and this is a great honor for the Woodard family. I’m going on record as saying it won’t be too many years before Mr. Woodard is up for Tennessee School Superintendent of the Year. Yeah, I said it.

THE CLOCK IS TICKING

Monday, the deadline for Shelby County Schools and Metro Nashville Public Schools to turn over student directory data to charter schools, passed without either complying with the state law. To date, State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen’s response has been minimal. After the deadline passed, she issued a statement voicing her disappointment with the districts’ actions and included this not-so-veiled threat: “We must consider all options available in situations where a district actively chooses to ignore the law.”

If you are one of those folks out there talking about her “lack of power” and her “over stepping her bounds,” you might be reading her lack of immediate action as validation for your position. I wouldn’t. Action is coming.

McQueen has no option, I believe, other than to issue a strong, decisive response that, unfortunately, inflicts some pain. You see, she’s got Chattanooga sitting on the sideline watching all this unfurl. McQueen, for good or bad, is in the process of bullying Hamilton County Schools (HCS) into participating in the new concept of a partnership district. HCS has, to date, been less than thrilled with this option offered by the state, and any sign of weakness may result in their bolting from the process.

Last week, the TNDOE was able to use a big stick to persuade HCS to continue forward with talks to form the partnership zone. That commitment was in question all the way up until the actual vote. The only reason it went forward was because HCS thought they had no other options. But let them see both Nashville and Memphis start succesfully bucking the TNDOE, and you watch the options that start to spring up as the fear dissipates.

Nope, McQueen is bringing the hammer. The only question is what is that hammer going to look like? Rumors say it might not be a fine. The fact that she’s being very measured in her response should be a source of concern for those involved.

As part of its strategy to deal with the district’s chronically underperforming schools, HCS also announced this week the formation of its own “Opportunity Zone.” According to the Times Free Press, new District Superintendent Bryan Johnson had this to say:

“The way we see it is the Opportunity Zone is a broader umbrella that encompasses 12 of our schools right now. The Partnership [Zone] fits within it concurrently to support these schools at a deeper level.”

Johnson said the implementation of the Opportunity Zone is about making sure that students get what they need immediately.

“We don’t have the luxury of having a year to plan.”

This bears further watching. I’m sure it’s going to get plenty interesting.

PAPERING THE HOUSE

Back when I wore a younger man’s clothes, I had a friend whose band went out on the road opening for Bon Jovi. Upon returning from the first leg, he told me a tale that has always stuck with me.

Bon Jovi was managed by the legendary Doc McGee. McGee joined the band out on the road for the first show. Well, that show wasn’t particularly well attended and that didn’t sit well with McGee. He pulled everybody on staff together immediately after the show, divided the remaining dates up among them, and informed them, in no uncertain terms, this was never going to happen again. Every show from here on out was going to be a sellout or somebody was going to be unemployed, and it wouldn’t be him.

At this time, Bon Jovi was touring in support of an album that wasn’t being particularly well received. This had no bearing on McGee’s edict. You either put butts in the seats, by whatever means, or put yours in the unemployment line. Miraculously, every show after that was a sellout.

I tell this story because I can’t help but think this is going to be the case with the upcoming MNPS Educator Voice meetings, the first of which starts next week. They are designed for MNPS leaders to hear from teachers. But here’s the thing: It’s week nine. Grades are due. Infinite Campus is still not working properly. There has been little effort to actually forge a relationship with most teachers. To get to the meeting, which starts well after school is out for the day, teachers would have to drive to a separate location in their quadrant during rush hour traffic. There has been no evidence presented to demonstrate that they won’t just be props in a staged publicity event. They’ve already sacrificed enough personal and family time in order to implement the district leadership’s poorly designed and communicated plans.  In other words, what is the impetus for teachers to go to these meetings?

I’m getting an unexpected answer though: anger. The amount of work added to teacher’s plate without clear direction has lit a fire that’s threatening to become a conflagaration. Lesson plan’s that took weeks to plan suddenly have to be abandoned and new ones created because previous plans didn’t align with the districts poorly communicated vision. Grades painstakingly entered in Infinite Campus randomly disappear and have to be re-entered. These are just a few examples of what’s got teachers so angry that papering the house may not be necessary.

In talking to several people across the district with daily access to teachers, I’ve come to believe that I may be underestimating the level of anger currently being felt by teachers. I knew y’all were angry, but I just assumed that teachers would do what they always do, which is to internalize the anger, shut the doors, and teach to best of their ability. Now I’m getting the drift that there may be something else in the air, that teachers may be reaching their boiling point, and I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t thrill me. Without their voices nothing will change.

I firmly believe that the Scope and Sequence for literacy combined with poor communication and direction from district leadership has put our teachers and principals in an untenable position. A position that is so severe, I am not sure we have a moral right to ask them to navigate it. Teacher’s already sacrifice so much in order to provide the best educational experience possible for all children. These sacrifices affect their marriages, their relationships with their own children, and their health and now we are demanding more. At what point do we realize that we have morally crossed a line and have raised the bar too high?

I liken it to football players and concussions. At some point society realized that concussions among NFL players had grown to epidemic portions and that it was having a negative impact on their lives away from the game. As a society we knew the game had to be made safer and through rule changes and new safety equipment it has become much safer. The same needs to happen with teaching before we destroy all of our best players. I’m well aware that all of that sounds hyperbolic, but believe we reacher a stage that things need to get a bit hyperbolic because nobody is listening.

Some of the policies currently being implemented – homework, grading, literacy – are not rooted in currently recognized best practices. I can’t grasp for the life of me why we are implementing a literacy plan that utilizes research from the late 90’s as primary justification. Yet, here we are. So much of the required texts, though the district argues that they are just recommendations despite being labeled required texts, are unavailable or inappropriate. Somebody needs to communicate that to district leadership. That message needs to be communicated by those who know best, those who take care of our kids daily, those who have been largely ignored – our teachers. Here’s hoping that Doc McGee’s strategy won’t be needed and teachers show up of their own volition demanding to be heard.

Going back to Chattanooga for a quick minute – their transition team met this week and some of the quotes that emerged from that meeting are very refreshing. For example, David Steele, co-chairman of the postsecondary readiness sub-group and vice president of policy education for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, said this:

“We’ve got lots of best practice here in Hamilton County,” said David Steele, co-chairman of the postsecondary readiness sub-group and vice president of policy education for the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. “You don’t need binoculars to find awesome.”

And in a moment of self-introspection of a level MNPS leadership could use, he added:

“When we found awesome stuff, our first thought should be, ‘How can we spread this?'” he said. “And instead, we look at it and say, ‘That’s awesome’ without taking further action.”

Knowing Dr. Joseph’s penchant for “bus” references, I chuckled at this one by LaKweshia Ewing, a local entrepreneur and co-chairperson of the communications and stakeholder engagement panel:

“There are some tools that already exist in the district that can be universal, that are being used by a subset population of the district,” she said. “There are a lot of good pieces on the bus, they may just be on another part of the bus.”

Have any statements even remotely similar arisen from MNPS meetings? Not that I’ve heard.

QUICK HITS

MNPS is making an effort to get the official Parent Advisory Committees back up and running. Yesterday they held the first of two orientation meetings. I welcome this revival, but based on some of the slides… I’ve got some questions.

I’m not sure that securing test proctors is the role of a parent advisory committee. I question the proposed close alignment between the PAC and PTOs/PTAs. The goal of giving a voice to parents also seems to be a low priority. But everything has to start somewhere, I guess. I must admit, the following exchange from the meeting gave me a chuckle:

Parent question: Do we can have a budget for the PACs?

Answer: No. But we do have a director of schools who is willing to help us.

Well okay then.

The next meeting is on October 3rd at 11:30 AM over on Charlotte Avenue.

Nashville-based blogger Vesia Hawkins has an interesting piece out this week. If you haven’t read it yet, you should.

If you haven’t read my piece from earlier in the week on the drinking water in MNPS schools, you need to read that one as well.

Check out the latest from the Equity and Diversity University for learning opportunities during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Congratulations to IT Creswell MS for being awarded an amazing music grant from VH1’s Save the Music!

McMurray MS had standing room only this morning for its parent meeting. Way to represent!

The football Powder Puff tradition continued this week at Antioch HS. The senior girls recorded a victory over the junior girls. Rah! Rah! Boom!

In case you were wondering, October 5th is a full day of school. October 6th is a teacher work day. Fall break is October 9-13. And everyone returns to school on Monday, October 16.

POLL QUESTIONS

I thought we’d have a little fun with the poll questions this week. The first one is about the upcoming Educator Voice meetings. If you are a teacher, I’m curious to what your approach as a teacher will be.

The second question revolves around the many different consultant groups we now have working in our district. Who’s your favorite?

The last question reflects back on the many people who have left the district over the last 13 months. Who do you miss the most? Who do you wish was still here?

That does it. You can email me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page.

 

 

NO. THE WATER AT MNPS SCHOOLS IS NOT SAFE.

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On Monday of this week, Phil Williams, an investigative reporter at News Channel 5, produced another damning report on lead levels present in the water at Metro Nashville Public Schools. I believe this is the seventh such report that he has produced on the subject, and all of them have been equally damning. The reports do not include speculative information nor reports that are open to interpretation. What is reported are actual numbers from water tests produced by people hired by MNPS. Numbers that can be easily interpreted by a simple Google search.

MNPS took the commendable action of having the water tested in its oldest buildings 2 years ago. Predictably, results came back that showed high levels of lead in several of our older schools. Schools that are made up of children from immigrant and impoverished homes. Schools like my children’s school.

Instead of taking these numbers, acknowledging the problems, and rectifying them, the district chose to issue a press release that disclosed none of the results and served as a congratulatory letter for merely testing the water. When they were challenged on the results and the lack of action, they issued another statement that claimed “The drinking water in the district’s oldest buildings meet all federal and state lead drinking water standards.” Sounds great, huh?

Let’s take a deeper look at that statement. The EPA has set a level of 15 ppb as an action level. Does that mean everything under that level is considered safe? Not according to the EPA, and I quote a recently produced Lead and Copper Rule Revisions White Paper:

Although public discussion often mistakes the action level as having significance in terms of health impacts, EPA has consistently emphasized that the health-based maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for lead in the current LCR is zero and that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

Well, that seems to take the question out of the debate. But what kind of health impacts are we talking about? We all know that these days, everything is dangerous. Once again, a simple Google search shows the following:

Lead is toxic, and if it makes its way into the still-developing brains of young children, many of the effects can be permanent. Lead can change how signals are passed within the brain, how memories are stored, even how cells get their energy, resulting in life-long learning disabilities, behavioral problems, and lower IQs.

Well, that doesn’t sound good, does it? In light of this, I refer to the press release issued by MNPS in response to Mr. William’s latest report:

The water testing that our district began in the summer of 2016 was a new and untested process for us as a district. Every step of the way, we have worked in tandem with water quality experts to obtain samples, review the data and implement best practices. This entire program has required learning and adjustments as we go since there are no requirements for school districts to test for lead and there are no standards in place for school districts.

I’m not sure who wrote this, but surely they didn’t think this through before releasing it. Yes, it’s true that the district has never tested water districtwide in the past, but to suggest that the process of testing water for lead is some kind of cutting-edge science is disingenuous at best. It’s been a recommended action for over 15 years that schools test drinking water for lead, and while many schools chose to ignore that recommendation, use that pesky Google search again and you’ll find that schools across the country are now confronting the issue. MNPS is not Neil Armstrong taking a stroll on the moon here.

The whole “learning and adjusting” claim is just ludicrous to me. What is there to learn other than the actionable level and the safe level? What adjustments are needed? It’s a simple equation: lead levels over 1 ppb equals bad and requires rectifying. Simple. Why would we possibly need a “standard” to dictate what is safe and unsafe?

There is no standard in place for my child to play in traffic either, but common sense tells me that if I allow them to do so, they run the risk of getting hit by a car. So, I assess the situation, and I rectify it. I don’t adjust by saying, “Well if he plays in traffic in the early afternoon or mid-morning, he’ll probably be all right because traffic is only heavy in the early morning or late afternoon.” No, I don’t let him play in traffic at all, and we shouldn’t let our children drink poisoned water at all either.

Last week, I received a copy of the results from the summer’s testing at the old Tusculum ES, which is now the McMurray Middle School Annex. It appears to me that there are a whole lot of results over 1 ppb in this report and several double digit numbers. Based on what we know, do you think that water at McMurray Middle School Annex is safe to drink? I know, it is below the federal action number, but do you believe it is safe?

In their press release, MNPS felt it important enough to inform us of this:

We are parents. We work in these buildings. We send our children to these schools. Above all else, the safety of our students and our staff has always been and will always be our first priority. It is a trust we do not take lightly. There is no way we would knowingly leave a potential safety risk to our students and staff uncorrected.

So I have to ask, as parents, would you drink from these fountains? Would you allow your children to drink from these fountains? If so, you and I have a very different interpretation of what’s safe for children. If not, what are you doing to rectify it?

Last week, State Representative Mike Stewart held an impassioned press conference denouncing the state for potentially putting children at risk by sharing their data with charter schools. MNPS Board Chair Anna Shepherd signed her name to a strongly worded editorial decrying the risk to students if the district complied with state law and shared students’ directory data with charter schools. And yet there is not a peep from anyone, save State Representative Jason Powell, on the very real danger of high levels of lead in student drinking water. Apparently fighting charter schools takes precedence over keeping our kids safe.

When I shared the above numbers with a high ranking district official last week, their reaction was to voice concern because Phil Williams was seen at a local school filming kids on the playground.

“Stop poisoning our kids, and he”ll stop filming,” I responded.

“But you can’t film our kiddos,” they explained.

Apparently, though, it’s all right to expose them to the dangers of lead, as long as you don’t film them.

Kudos to Phil Williams for continuing to pursue this story despite the collective shrug by city leaders. Mayor Barry has not issued a single statement on the issue despite issuing several statements that promised to protect immigrants and their families. The Tennessean has largely ignored the issue. Even the Nashville Scene, despite its writers recognizing the severity of the situation, has offered very little coverage.

UPDATE 9/28: Phil Williams did was able to ask Mayor Barry about the MNPS drinking water situation yesterday. She vowed that, “Whatever they need to make sure that this will be safe drinking water is what we’ll do.” The entry of the mayor’s office into the conversation is a very welcome development and one that gives me optimism that something will actually be done.

The district released a beautiful, heartfelt public statement in response to recent policy changes initiated by President Trump over the summer. In the statement they reaffirmed that “Metro Nashville Public Schools wants to reassert our belief that all school-aged students should have access to an excellent education, and thus access to enhanced opportunities, without regard to their immigration status or the immigration status of their parents.” Take a look at the demographics of those schools with the highest levels of lead in the drinking water and ask yourself is MNPS walking the walk or just talking the talk?

MNPS has got to take action and fix this issue. We are making our most vulnerable students even more vulnerable, and it should be objectionable to everyone. I can’t say it enough. This quote from the Center for Disease Control reiterates it as well:

The adverse health effects of lead exposure in children and adults are well documented, and no safe blood lead threshold in children has been identified.