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BACK TO THE WELL

As I mentioned yesterday, we got a lot of catching up to do. So much has happened in the last week. Some of what has transpired is actually quite good.

“Another tradition to politics, a tradition (of politics) that stretched from the days of the country’s founding to the glory of the Civil Rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another, and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done.” – Barack Obama

The role of a public policy advocate is often one that is fraught with disappointment. It takes a lot energy and a lot of belief to move the mountain even slightly. You often go months believing that your actions have little impact. Then you get a win. A win that makes you realize and believe anew how important this work is.

Over the summer of 2016, MNPS tested schools’ drinking water for lead. They did so on their own volition and for that should be commended. That’s where the accolades stop.

After the results came in, they did nothing. They didn’t share the results and they didn’t take action to address the situation at schools with high quantities of lead found in their water. It wasn’t until the Spring of 2017 that they shared the information with building principals. Mind you, I said shared, not gave a direction of action. It was more of a, “Hey, you might find this interesting” thing as opposed to a, “Oh lord, we have to fix this” kind of thing.

Luckily, Phil Williams of Channel 5 News got a hold of the report and thus began a year-long crusade to force the district to take action. A crusade that there never should have been a need to undertake. Williams’s first report was so damning that it should have been an instant call to action. Instead the District decided to congratulate themselves on the initiative to test, all the while failing to recognize the need for a follow-up. A campaign to spread half-truths and misinformation was undertaken and minimal steps at correction were pursued.

Over the year, Williams produced multiple stories. MNPS’s reaction was always the same: “We are doing the best we can,” “filters don’t really work,” “We are studying the situation.” They trotted out the worst trope – our levels are below EPA suggested levels – so often they might have actually believed it. One more time – for clarification purposes – the EPA levels are indicators of a need for a corrective action, not an indicator of safe levels of lead. There is no safe level of lead. Chris Henson should have to get that tattooed on his forearm.

Earlier this week, Board Chair Anna Shepherd took exception to my criticism of her leadership over the past two years. Going as far as to declare our friendship over. I’d like to point out that while MNPS students were exposed to high levels of lead in their drinking water, the board, under her leadership, never had a meaningful public conversation about how we could protect our kids or even about the level of risk they were exposed to. Instead, there was one perfunctory discussion where Dr. Joseph and Chris Henson said everything was all right, the board drank their Kool-Aid, and everybody said, “Okay.” Note to Anna Shepherd: friends don’t expose friends’ families to harmful toxins, especially without acknowledgement.

Luckily, Phil Williams didn’t drink his glass of Kool-Aid, and on this past Monday, Mayor Briley made an announcement that should be met with deep gratitude by all MNPS parents. MNPS will stop using a controversial technique, pre-stagnation flushing, for testing of toxic lead levels. “You know, you’ve got to applaud people for doing the testing, but frankly those results need to be thrown right in the garbage,” said Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech, an expert who has studied Flint’s water crisis extensively.

Briley’s plan calls for random sampling of 10 percent of all drinking and food prep outlets every year and aims to keep levels under 5 parts per billion. Levels considerably lower than the 155 ppb that MNPS previously found acceptable.

Mayor Briley deserves a standing ovation for this action. What makes it even more remarkable is that initially he wasn’t convinced that there was more that MNPS could do. He felt that they were adequately addressing the problem. But then he did what all of us should do, he sat down with experts and listened to what they had to say. Then he did the right thing. That’s what leadership does.

Thank God Williams doggedly pursued this issue. The print press certainly didn’t have much to say. The Tennessean published one article that talked about MNPS’s plans to test water with little mention of the high levels already found in drinking water. They wrote one more report when an MNPS official was caught on tape discussing plans to bypass water filters. In that piece, then-MNPS public information officer Michelle Michaud was quoted as saying, “We are committed to making sure that the water quality in our schools is as good as it can be.” The Tennessean never checked that and apparently Briley disagreed with her and MNPS.

Two years ago, the Tennessean took a very vested interest in the selection of the next Director of Schools. Editor David Plazas wrote multiple editorials extolling the selection process. When school board members veered away from the endorsed path of the Tennessean, they were quickly slapped back in place. None of that should have been permitted and all of it should have raised eyebrows. To be fair, for some it did, including me.

The point is, that by allowing itself to get as enmeshed with the process of selection as they did, the Tennessean has become invested in the success of a candidate instead of the success of a system. It would seem that the two are the same, but when the candidate is underperforming, and you actively work to protect him, the system can’t improve. It should be immaterial who the director is because we are focused on outcomes, not personalities.

In just the last two months, the Tennessean has failed to give coverage to a director’s evaluation where some board members were highly critical of the director, in-depth coverage of recently released TNReady scores, and lawsuits accusing district leadership of covering up sexual misconduct. Fairly large stories, I would say. Though I should mention that they put out a press release touting the director’s letter on sexual harassment.

We constantly hear the importance of a free and independent press. I think the Tennessean needs to heed the words of journalist Tom Wicker: “If the true freedom of the press is to decide for itself what to publish and when to publish it, the true responsibility of the press must be to assert and defend that freedom… What the press in America needs is less inhibition, not more restraint.”

Nashville needs the Tennessean to do their job. Kids’ safety, future, and very lives are at stake. They owe it to the families of Nashville to give a true and unbiased portrait of what transpires in MNPS. District leadership cannot be the only source of information. In the immortal words of Bill Belichick, “Do your job.”

HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

I always say that if you fail to give people a true narrative, they will invent their own and invariably it will be negative. Case in point is the recent resignation of Smith Springs Principal Lance High. Before we go any further, I’m going to state for the record that I have a great deal of affection for Lance. I truly hate the pain that he and his family are feeling right now and pray that they will find the healing they need. That said, nothing sets the rumor mill afire faster than an abrupt resignation in the midst of district wide allegations of sexual misconduct. Right or wrong, it fuels speculation.

In an effort to dampen rumor, and hopefully move the conversation forward so that the High family can get to the healing, here’s what I know and feel comfortable sharing. By his own admission, Lance suffered intense trauma as a child, that trauma has impacted his ability to navigate adult relationships, and at times has led to questionable actions. He and his family are taking steps to address those issues. I have seen no evidence that at any time his actions potentially put kids at risk.

I would ask that people put aside speculation on the past, and instead focus on helping new leadership pull that school together and continue embarking upon what appears to be the beginning of the best year ever. There are a lot of talented educators at Smith Springs and those families are in good hands. I believe Lance has a strong support system and they will help lead him out of this crisis. It’s not going to easy for either, and everyone will need our prayers.

UPDATED 8:30 PM, 8/10/2018: When I initially wrote the above piece, I was so concerned about the pain of the High family that I neglected to fully consider the pain of those who were on the receiving end of Lance High’s advances. I do think it’s possible to love the sinner but hate the sin. However, there is a lot of hurt to go around. All of it is worthy of our sympathy, empathy, and prayers. It was inexcusable for me not to include everyone and y’all didn’t give me a pass. Here’s what one of you wrote in the comments:

TC, I am really disappointed at the pass you have given Dr. High for his inappropriate behavior. He sends a conveniently timed email about his abuse as a 4-year-old and his behavior “didn’t directly impact kids”, as you state, and he gets a total pass. We’re supposed to feel sorry for him? By your logic, we should also give a pass to Dr. Braden because his behavior also didn’t “directly impact kids”. What if he was abused, too, as a 4-year-old and just hasn’t made it conveniently public like Dr. High has done. Does he, too, get a pass on his behavior? I’m disappointed that you did not call this out for what it is. Blatant, unwanted sexual advances towards a subordinate and outright sexual harassment. Dr. High has faced his day in the public eye for his behavior and his actions have likely damaged every aspect of his life. Let’s not forget what this is, though. It is a pattern of sexual harassment at multiple schools, and the only reason he shared this personal information is because “time is up” and he is trying to gather sympathy votes on his behalf. I am disappointed to see you cast your vote for him.

I am sorry that I wasn’t more considerate. By not fully addressing the issues, I was falling into the trap that district leadership is mired in. We are a district that has some very serious issues, compounded by a Human Resources department that feels their primary duty is protecting Dr. Joseph. We have a Director of Schools who is unwilling to lead when we need it most. We have a school board that finds it easier to bury their head than demand action. They’d rather cheerlead and send letters to the TNDOE on testing. In the end we are all failing teachers, students, and families that look to leadership to provide a safe haven to teach and learn.

For me, this is a learning experience. If you are going to raise people’s expectations, you owe it to them to live up to those expectations. This blog has become, and will continue to be, a place that strives to tell the truth to the best of my ability. Today I tried to duck that responsibility. Thank you for caring enough for me not to let me. That’s the kind of love MNPS needs.

QUICK HITS

District Leadership met this week with members of the immigrant community. The meeting came about after previous Executive Director Kevin Stacy resigned to take a position in Clarksville, and while previous Number 2 Molly Hegwood was named his replacement, her position was filled by former Paragon Mills Principal Joie Austria. Austria’s tenure at Paragon Mills was not a successful one. Eyebrows were further raised when she was installed at a salary higher, by several thousand dollars, than Hegwood. Where else but MNPS can you make more money than your supervisor?

By all accounts, the meeting was successful. Many of the community’s fears were allayed and they were given a sense of priority. There has been a shift as of late to have EL teachers spend more time supporting content teachers. The idea is that EL students are so prevalent that all teachers should have the tools to educate them. Apparently, content teachers were voicing feelings of inadequacies in that area. So it’s good that the district is addressing this concern. I can’t help but wonder, though, if those feelings of inadequacies isn’t a byproduct of the district losing so many veteran teachers and therefore having to construct more supports for younger teachers.

We’ll continue watching as things develop, but at this juncture everybody seems pleased with the direction things are going.

MNPS teachers be aware, today’s check does not include insurance deductions nor updated sick leave information. That should be on the next check. So don’t get excited and think you got a raise.

I nominate early education teachers and fine arts teachers to be in charge of organizing all future protests. Their well-organized actions in regard to portfolio evaluations have produced results. TNEd Report’s Andy Spears has the details. Those teachers are a force to be reckoned with.

Blogger Peter Greene has an excellent piece on teacher evaluations this week. Greene points out that “The root problem with the current state of teacher evaluation is that we never had the necessary conversations about what we think it is for.” True dat. Read the whole piece.

On Wednesday, August 15, Ride for Reading is hosting a Teacher Book Pick-up! Teachers in Title I schools are invited to attend and select books for their students and class libraries for the school year. Space is limited to 40 teachers. Register here: http://bit.ly/BookPickup_Aug

The Maplewood Cluster is hosting a back-to-school event this Saturday, August 11, at Ida B. Wells Elementary School.

Interesting article on teacher salaries in Williamson County. Evidence that it’s about more than just the money. As a school board member, I wanted to push creating compensation packages. Packages that might have offered day care at schools, low interest loans for those wishing to purchase homes, health club memberships to places that weren’t across town from their homes. We have to create packages that invest in teachers so they will invest in us.

Apparently teachers have been getting emails instructing them to curtail energy costs at school, going so far as to limit the number of appliances they are allowed to plug in. MNPS seems determined to drive home the “we are broke” messaging as deeply as possible. That always inspires the troops.

And one more word on testing. This one is from Chattanooga by way of my good friend J.C. Bowman.

The jury is still out for me on many of the main characters in this Chalkbeat article about Principal management, but I respect me some Gary Hughes. So I share it with you for your evaluation. I’ve yet to see wide scale evidence that the restructuring of central office has produced improved outcomes, but I’m always open to counter arguments.

That should keep you sated for the weekend. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. It’s the good news station. If you need to get a hold of me, the email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. Keep sending me your stuff and I’ll share as much as possible. Don’t forget to answer this week’s poll questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GUESS WHO’S BACK? BACK AGAIN. SHADY’S BACK, TELL A FRIEND.

We’ve all witnessed the scene on television: the hero is backed into a corner by a pack of angry dogs growling at his heels, ready to tear him to shreds. His fate seems sealed until suddenly he reaches into a pocket and pulls out a bloody red piece of meat. He waves the meat overhead, getting the animal’s attention, and then hurls it across the room. The dogs quickly turn from him, race to the meat, and tear into it, whilst our hero scampers to safety, unscathed. That, in a nutshell, is what we just witnessed this past week as MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and Shelby County Schools Director Dorsey Hopson tossed out a piece of red meat by sending a letter to the TNDOE calling for a halt to TNReady testing.

In their letter, the two stated the following:

“After years of repeated implementation failures and missteps by multiple vendors, we believe educator and public trust in TNReady has fallen to irretrievably low levels. We are challenged to explain to teachers, parents, and students why they must accept the results of a test that has not been effectively deployed.”

That is a fair enough statement. Lord knows that for years I have been critical of TNReady and the state’s inability to correctly implement the standardized testing process. It’s almost become a spring ritual for me to write about the inadequacies. I wrote about issues in 2015, 2016, and again in 2016, 2017, and… you get it. The point is that I am clearly not a fan of standardized testing and have not been afraid to speak out about it for the past 5 years. I am so anti-standardized testing that it truly offends me when the issue is used purely as a distraction with little concern given toward making meaningful change.

Sending a letter at this juncture is nothing but a publicity move. Trust me, Candice and Bill ain’t having coffee somewhere when Bill looks at Candice and says, “You read about this letter in the paper from Dorsey and Shawn? I think they might be on to something.”

And Candice replies, “I was thinking the same thing. Bill and Karl called me and said they are ready to stop the madness if elected.”

Not happening. In fact, probably just the opposite, and if any of the aforementioned are prone to four-letter words, they are probably filling the air with them.

I hear the chorus now, “Come on, TC! This is big! These guys are making a stand! They believe in what they are saying.”

Ok, then riddle me these questions:

  • Why was the letter sent to coincide with the first day of school, thus taking away focus from the most optimistic day of the year? Why didn’t they pen this opus back in May when state legislators actually dealt with the issue? This year is as close to a pause as you can get and still follow federal policy.
  • Why are there no meaningful alternatives offered? Surely these two thought leaders have some ideas of what should be utilized sans TNReady.
  • Where is the official response to TNReady Scores from MNPS? Scores have been out for nearly a month, yet the only commentary comes from the Tennessean and it’s a bit buried in their article on Middle Tennessee results. Dr. Joseph has nary a word for students and their families. If the test are so invalid, why was that message not conveyed to parents, students, and teachers before it went on the big screen? I suspect that if the results were better, the problems with the test would lessen.
  • When did the school board sign off on this letter? Knox County Schools voted to send a letter to the DOE yesterday, but it was the school board who commissioned the director to do so. Why was Nashville’s School Board not given the same courtesy?
  • Why was the letter released to Chalkbeat prior to McQueen receiving it? Again, if you are looking to make meaningful change, why not show courtesy to those who facilitate that action?
  • The letter talks of the forming of an educator cabinet while failing to acknowledge one already exists. Why not just say that you don’t like the makeup of the newly named committee? Maybe if you spent more time collaborating and less time writing letters that land with the press before hitting the commissioner’s desk, the make up of the committee would be a little different. Just saying, you catch more flies…
  • Why no mention of the fact that suspending of testing for any amount of time would be in direct violation of federal policy and make the state vulnerable to financial penalties? Damn, that ESSA thing!
  • How come the letter coincides with a week’s worth of TV reports on alleged sexual misconduct by district employees? Hmmm… doesn’t that deserve a letter?
  • If we are so concerned about teachers and families, why does the letter just address TNReady and not the portfolio process, which is in crisis mode right now? If there was a real concern for teachers, the letter would have asked that access to the platform to check errors be available past tomorrow. Right now I’m sure a few on the ELT team are saying, “Platform? Huh? What’s he talking about? Is he talking trains?” If you are confused right now, ask a first grade, kindergarten, or fine arts teacher. I’m sure they’d be willing to elucidate.

All this leads to the best unkept secret of the week, the author of said letter. In talking to people across the district over the last couple of days, I can safely say not one person believes that anybody other than board member Will Pinkston wrote that letter. His fingerprints are all over it, with lots of hyperbole and little depth.

Of course, the superintendent letter generated a response letter. Members of the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition released a letter asking that testing not be halted. In their words:

“We urge all of our education leaders and policymakers to press forward, tackling our testing challenges head-on, and rebuilding trust by staying the course and getting it right for every student in Tennessee,”

The statement was signed by 13 education advocates, including the leaders of the NAACP state conference, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, the Knoxville Area Urban League, and Conexión Américas, which advocates for Latino families in Nashville.

Let’s step back again and take a look at the author of the original letter for a minute. In this instance, you have a board member who takes it upon himself to set the district on a course of action without consulting any other elected leaders. One who’s been so busy working on a United States Senatorial run by Phil Bredesen that he’s been barely present at board meetings for the last 6 months, yet he feels comfortable using the Directors of Schools for two counties to drive his own personal agenda. How is that all right?

Imagine if board members Mary Pierce or Jill Speering tried a similar action. Special meetings would be held in a heartbeat. We might even be talking expulsion from Davidson County. In Pierce’s case, they’d probably drop Bransford Avenue on top of her.

How is it that Pinkston is allowed to continually act with impunity? Why does no one call attention to his lack of adherence to board policy? Pinkston treats board policy as mere suggestions. Deadlines for director evaluations are missed, he speaks to whomever and in whatever manner with impunity, he meddles in district operations on a whim while chastising others for getting “in the weeds,” and directs his ire at those he empowered in the past. No matter how egregious his actions are, no one ever demands accountability from him. If they do, they are met with an avalanche of scorn and public humiliation. He does as he pleases and people just shrug and say, “That’s Will. I don’t want him coming after me. What are you going to do?”

Currently, he chastises others for their public criticisms of Joseph. He tells people behind the scenes that his friends and public supporters have lost their mind – further evidence that loyalty is a four letter word to Pinkston. Yet, back when Dr. Register was the director of schools, Pinkston went after him with a zealousness that was often uncomfortable to witness. Utilizing every one of the skills honed as the pit bull for Bredesen’s gubernatorial cabinet to make Registers life miserable. Again, there always seems to be one set of rules for Pinkston and one set of rules for everybody else. I always say that it’s not that he’s smarter than everybody, but rather his lack of a moral compass allows him to go places that others won’t go which makes him formidable.

Example being that in last election cycle he had his, as he likes to refer to them, minions pulled the divorce records of an opponent’s staff member. That’s right, not the opponent, but the supporter’s divorce file. Yet his rather rich personal file remains untouched. Did you know that…. never mind… as Nietzsche says… “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

In the past, I might have argued that teachers and students benefited from his ruthlessness. Though I would point to the plethora of issues that have sprung from the roots of Race To the Top, including excessive testing and unchecked charter school growth, in which Pinkston often claims a role in having shaped. Now, though, he is using his considerable prowess to cover up bad policy that ends up hurting kids and teachers. Instead of focusing his attention on improving MNPS, he’s focused on preserving his perceived legacy by propping up a man that he was instrumental in selecting. Keeping that man in place has become more important than doing the right thing.

Every piece of red meat that he tosses out draws attention away from real issues that need solving. In deflecting attention away from policy deficits, an environment is being created where parents who have alternative options will take those options. This is not a new phenomenon; we saw it during Pedro Garcia’s reign as well. When families with means leave, those with lesser means are left behind. Unfortunately educating those with higher needs comes at a higher cost which leads to increased underfunding. We will be left with a system that has fewer families, but a higher cost, and that will take decades to recover from, if ever.

After this summer, I think it’s become clear that the Human Resources Department in MNPS is incompetent. However, after the last week of stories on Channel 5 involving sexual misconduct, I don’t think incompetent is a strong enough word. Last night’s story reveals a department whose inability to properly function is exposing teachers and students to grave risk.

You have not one, not two, but three independent entities telling stories of the HR executive director not just mishandling sexual misconduct investigations, but attempting to influence them to the benefit of the perpetrators.

“Ms. Pertiller came to the man in charge of this investigation and told him that he better ‘get this right’ in terms of outcome or Dr. Joseph would fire him,” Blackburn said.

The lawsuit says that – even though Joseph knew there were allegations against his friend – Pertiller told the HR employee he would not be allowed to interview the director of schools about what he knew.

In the end, the investigation still concluded Carrasco was guilty, and he resigned.

But the lawsuit says that wasn’t the end of it.

“The outcome was contrary to Mr. Carrasco, and all sorts of retaliation ensued for this employee afterwards,”

Those comments are made in reference to the investigation into allegations against former MNPS administrator Mo Carrasco earlier in the year.

Several lawsuits have either been filed or are pending due to the mishandling of investigations. Yet the only response from Shawn Joseph and MNPS has been to announce that an independent investigation would be taking place. Of course a few details are left out of that announcement. Details like who’s going to do the investigation and who’s going to pay for it. Minor details. Excuse me, Dr. Joseph did say sexual harassment is bad and not to do it. Actions speak louder than words though.

Up in Columbus, Ohio, head football coach Urban Meyer is on administrative leave while the university looks into how he handled charges of spousal abuse against one of his coaches. Here in Nashville, everybody is showing up and going to work. Don’t think people aren’t watching how things unfold and drawing conclusions about priorities. Why does a university hold its football coach to a higher standard than MNPS holds its leaders?

You’d think that somebody on the school board would read these reports and demand that action be taken. Not all of the pending lawsuits will end in favor of the accusers, but either way, through legal fees or judgements, Nashville is going to get a bill, and a school system that cries poor will have to divert some more money away from students. You’d think somebody would get proactive instead of waiting to react. Nah… everything is good… nothing to see here… move along… did you see that piece about standardized testing? Yeah… student rights!

But what about the right for students and teachers to attend schools where they are not subject to sexual harassment? Is that not important? What’s the message that is being sent through the handling of these cases? If I’m a teacher in a school where my principal is a known confidant of Dr. Joseph and I’m being sexually harassed, who am I going to turn to? Especially after witnessing on multiple occasions what happens to those who bring accusations against someone with favored status? Why would I not just grin, try to bear it, and transfer out at the end of the year? Is that the standard we wish to set? Is that exceeding expectations?

Apparently, that’s some MNPS board members interpretation. Because they have shown absolutely no compulsion to offer any direction to Dr. Joseph or even ask for more information, and instead have appeared content while a fellow board member hijacks the conversation for their own agenda. It is nothing short of shameful.

Some of you right now are probably thinking, “Damn, TC, you are going to piss Pinkston off.”

I don’t think so. I really don’t think he cares what I say. Why should he? As long as nobody will step in and actually check his actions, nothing I say is going to make a difference. The Bredesen campaign obviously has no problems with his behavior. It’s remarkable how much a similarity he bears to the current occupant of the White House. He acts with impunity, people get mad and wring their hands, but in the end he’s allowed to continue his behavior unabated. Thanks to Zac Barnes and his recently revised Tip Sheet, we now know just how much Bredesen values Pinkston. $120k for 6 months of work is some good cheese.

Meanwhile, really good behavior is being thwarted because we don’t have a comprehensive literacy plan, we don’t have enough teachers, we don’t have a deep enough sub pool, we don’t have enough literacy coaches, we don’t have enough crossing guards, we don’t have enough bus drivers… these are the things we should be writing letters about instead of picking fights with no chance of victory against those who should be allies.

Right now, there is jockeying behind the scenes for the position of school board chair, but I would ask, “Does it matter?” There was one person steering the conversation on Dr. Register and there is now one steering the discussion on Dr. Joseph. In neither case is that person the board chair. So whomever gets the position is going to hold it in name only unless they demonstrate the ability to make Will Pinkston adhere to board policy. Without that taking place, everything else is moot, and the board will continue to be dysfunctional.

Over the last couple of years, the board has taken a position of if you don’t say anything negative publicly, the public won’t think anything is wrong and things will just move along. Funny, Antioch HS and JFK Middle School both fall in District 6 and have been grossly neglected by MNPS. Ask former school board member Tyese Hunter how ignoring those problems worked out for her. I promise, board members may not be paying attention, but families are, and they’ve shown the ability to tune out the noise and use their vote to make their displeasure known. The message sent was clear: ignore them at your own peril. The rest of us will hopefully keep our eyes on the prize and work to make MNPS worthy of our love.

By the way… did you hear that in the nineties… I used to like to drink whiskey… chase girls… and make really bad decisions? Join us tomorrow when we celebrate a welcome announcement by the mayor on lead in school water and we see what else we can find lurking under the rocks.

 

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LET THE GAMES BEGIN

This summer may have passed faster than any in recent memory. It seems like just last week that the kids were escaping the halls, and the endless possibilities of summer stretched out in front of them. I know for many, summer is not as freeing as it is for my family. Thankfully, over the years, churches and community groups have successfully worked with schools to alleviate some of those challenges. In any case, the season has passed and the time has come for the halls and classrooms to reclaim their denizens.

Unfortunately, teachers will not be starting the year without distractions and concerns. This is especially true for kindergarten teachers, first grade teachers, and those who teach fine arts. You see, last year, the state created a new system of accountability for those teachers. Two weeks ago, they released preliminary results for K-1 teachers. Predictably, it’s a mess.

THE INABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY MEASURE

Last year, in the endless quest to quantify and hold everybody but themselves accountable, the TNDOE rolled out a portfolio method of evaluation to be used for kindergarten, first grade, and fine arts teachers. The way it is supposed to work is that teachers submit 4 examples, or portfolio collections, taken during the year of students performing work related to the standards. A rubric is used to self-evaluate, with peer review used to complete the process. The TNDOE refers to this process as the collecting of artifacts.

As many of you know, I’m not a fan of standards for early learners. While the Kindergarten standards are questionable enough, looking at a sampling of standards for fine arts makes my head hurt.

For example, under student performance indicators (SPI), one standard a kindergarten student should be able to perform is as follows:

  1. 2.1.1  Identify a steady beat.
  2. 2.1.2  Imitate a steady beat using body percussion or instruments.
  3. 2.1.3  Maintain a steady beat independently.

I’m telling you right now, as a 53-year-old man, I would fail that SPI. I have never been able to stay on the beat. And guess what? It has never been a deterrent in my appreciation of music. Music is an integral part of my life and I often find a great deal of joy in singing loudly and off-key. That’s probably a failing of my elementary education teachers, but hey, you win some, you lose some.

A little side rant here. While I disagree with the use of standards for evaluation of primary kids, using standards in fine arts completely runs counter to the purpose of the arts. Art should be a reflection of the human condition and are entirely dependent on the individual. Some individuals convey emotions and experiences that relate to a culture as a whole, others to smaller subgroups. Both serve to enrich lives and none is more important than others.

Creating standards in art is nothing short of an attempt to construct uniformity among individuals. In the long run those standards will work to hinder the pushing of boundaries, which is essential to the vitality of the arts. As one friend of mine, a multi-Grammy award-winning producer, has said in the past, “We are losing that kid that goes into the garage and does everything all wrong, yet somehow it turns out all right.”

Enough of that now. Back to the portfolio process. I’ve spent a fair amount of time reading and re-reading the requirements and instructions as laid out by the TNDOE on their website and I’m still baffled. Here’s their outline for creating a high-quality portfolio:

  • Create a long-term instructional plan for the school year, considering when standards will be introduced, pre-assessed, and monitored.
  • Deconstruct standards so that planning can be explicit and clear for students and develop or identify aligned performance tasks that will be used to measure performance.
  • Utilize the scoring rubric to develop task-specific expectations.
  • Collect Point A work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
  • Score and sort Point A student work artifacts into differentiated groups (emerging, proficient,advanced) based on the scoring rubric, task specific expectations, knowledge of students, and other assessment data such as universal screeners or entry inventories. See the section titled Point A ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Differentiating Grouping for additional information on the sorting process.
  • Differentiate instruction for specific needs and strengths that were identified within the Point A student work artifacts.
  • Collect Point B work at the most appropriate time within the instructional plan.
  • Score Point B student work artifacts and analyze growth between Point A and Point B student workartifacts.
  • Determine which samples within each differentiated group demonstrate the most representativegrowth; this guides the process of purposeful sampling. See the section titled Point B ELA Student Work Artifacts: Collecting, Scoring, and Purposeful Sampling for additional information on purposeful sampling.
  • Submit the purposefully sampled student work artifacts into portfolio collections using the online platform prior to the April 15 due date.

I hope you follow those instructions better than I do. In any case, it should not be surprising that the release of scores was delayed from mid-May until late-July, because nothing communicates “drives instruction” like releasing data near the beginning of a new school year. Also not surprising, errors were found within the results. According to the State Education Commissioner this was due to teacher error, as opposed to problems with the system.

According to the state, some teachers mismatched students and standards which led to them receiving 1’s. Why the potential for that to happen wasn’t recognized on the front end and safeguards built-in to account for such occurrences, I’ll never understand. But it seems as much as we worship at the church of critical thinking, we put very little of it into practice. The TNDOE response to complaints leaves a lot to be desired:

If you have a concern with your score, you will need to go through each one of your submissions where you received a 1 on the Educopia site and check on the items that are listed above and below before filing a grievance.

Check:

Check to make sure you have a context form for each student and achievement level for point A and point B that received a score of a 1
Check to make sure that you didn’t have two different standards between point A and point B on each submission and achievement level where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you didn’t upload two different student work samples for point A and point B for each achievement level where you received a 1 on the submission.
Check to make sure that you didn’t include multiple standards on the context form or included on the context form on submissions where you received a 1.
Check to make sure that you had 3 different individuals for each achievement level for the submission where you received a 1. Make sure duplicate work samples were not submitted.

Review your collections thoroughly to look for any of the items above. If a submission error is found, it does not qualify for a grievance. If you have double checked your submission and did not find a submission error, a grievance form can be submitted. The grievance window has been extended to October 1st.

I am not going to pretend to have a full grasp of any of this process. While I understand that I am not a professional educator, I believe that education policy needs to be written in a manner that can be grasped by parents, and this policy, and subsequent DOE communication, fails that test. I also believe that this process is entirely too labor-intensive. Even though the window to file grievances has been extended to October, is this really where a teacher’s attention needs to be focused at the start of school?

Some have pointed out that this is a trial year and that scores won’t actually count against teachers. That may be true officially, but do you know anybody that would be comfortable under any circumstances with a 1 on their record? Secondly, unofficially those scores are out there and there is nothing to protect teachers from opinions being formed based on those scores.

Business long ago realized that there are only a limited number of hours in the day. That’s why when you go to buy a car, the salesperson is focused solely on the sale. He’s not completing your credit check, or your loan application, nor is he completing the final sale paperwork. The most effective salespeople are focused on only one thing, selling the product. Everything else distracts from the primary objective. Why can’t we provide that same consideration to teachers? Instead of just being allowed to teach, they are continually forced to devote as much time to proving they are teaching as they are actually teaching.

By creating a process where an early elementary teacher has to decipher dense instruction, create artifacts, upload those artifacts, and then review them, after the fact, to ensure that they were uploaded properly, creates a number of distractions. Time wise alone, something has to be sacrificed, and invariably that becomes focus on children. Surely a better process can be created.

TEACHER MENTAL HEALTH

Chances are that if you drove by an MNPS school this past weekend, it was littered with cars. These cars belong to teachers who are sacrificing their own time, uncompensated, in order to get their classrooms ready to receive students. This is due to the district continually failing to provide adequate time to do so. I brought up this issue with several teachers this weekend, and all answered that it was “just part of it,” “it had to get done,” and “what are you going to do?” I had one teacher offer as a compliment to the principal, “Our principal is only unlocking the doors to the school one day. Other principals are opening the building both days.”

Principals need to understand that teachers, despite the best efforts of Betsy DeVos and her ilk, are members of the service sector. They entered the profession to help kids and as such will do just about whatever is necessary to give kids the best opportunities available. Often to their own detriment.

This dedication to service has been exploited for years and continues to grow. Case in point, the proliferation of back-to-school sale fliers directed at teachers. Principals posting social media messages, or even inter building messages, extolling those teachers working long extra hours and sacrificing personal time subconsciously reinforces a culture of sacrifice. Who’s going to even consider refusing to sacrifice when acceptance comes from adherence?

What do you think would happen if, in response to the district failing to schedule adequate classroom prep time, teachers didn’t self-sacrifice and classrooms were unprepared for students upon arrival? I’m willing to bet that ensuing chaos and disruption would lead to a re-evaluation of scheduling the next year, and that provisions would be made. However, teachers refuse to take that step because they always put kids first and are unwilling to take action that could be detrimental to children and so the self-sacrificing expectations continue to grow.

2015 National Teacher of the Year Shanna Peeples has an excellent piece out today, How Your Back-To-School Messages are Hurting Teachers. She points out the following:

There’s tremendous pressure on teachers to be up and on, always positive, always “engaging.” When the issues students bring to school with them accumulate to a degree that they feel too heavy for many teachers, there’s not many places to turn.

This can cause what feels like a constant, low-grade emotionally abusive relationship. Too much of school, in my experience, fosters a dark co-dependency where staff are told that if they just work harder, give up more hours of their lives, tutor more, then students will “achieve.” Achievement, in this regard, of course means higher scores.

It’s an observation that I see play out endlessly. She echoes my thoughts when she points out this:

Often, these messages are delivered from a corporate or business partner who will send in a marketing person to hand out baskets full of old chocolate while using her most dramatic voice to tearfully tell teachers: “You are all candles. You consume yourself so that you can create light for others.” As my friend Justin says, that’s not only completely unsustainable as a metaphor or a policy, but it’s also a literal prescription for burnout.

That’s not a recipe for a healthy culture. A subliminal message is continually sent that you can’t effectively teach without giving a pound of flesh. In other professions, that expectation may exist, but in those cases compensation that offsets the sacrifice is offered. For teachers, the only compensation is the success of their students.

What if, instead of unlocking the school on weekends, the principal made a public announcement highlighting that over the weekend, “Ms. Johnson spent Saturday at her kid’s soccer game, which they won 4 to 3. Ms. Smith joined friends for a wonderful dinner at Husk and then they saw a concert afterwards. Mr. Brown took his family hiking and if anybody needs recommendations on good trails, he’s your guy.” What kind of cultural impact would that have?

Many of you are probably chuckling right now. Nobody has any time for any of that because it doesn’t add to achievement scores. Or does it? Who is going to be more effective as a teacher? The one who is hanging by their last emotional thread because they’ve been working ungodly hours due to a combination of internal and external expectations? Or the one who disconnected for a bit in order to recharge and refresh? Teacher mental health is a real issue and needs to be treated with the same priority as student growth scores because the two are intertwined.

I think everyone needs to heed Peeple’s concluding message:

Education critics act as though there is an unending supply of people standing outside their administrative offices waiting to apply for teaching jobs. This self-serving fantasy is giving way to real numbers of teachers retiring and those who are refusing to go into teaching in the first place.

Much like the #MeToo movement forced the culture to see the reality of sexual harassment, teacher walkouts and teacher attrition will finally make us all see the reality of the emotional labor and abuse we’ve heaped upon our teachers for too long.

And no amount of discount door prizes at meetings, banal speakers, or slides dripping with edu-guilt and edu-shame will make that go away.

QUICK NOTES

On Friday, the last of the Reading Recovery teacher leaders, Marissa Hicks, resigned from MNPS. The district was publicly paying lip service to allowing RR to continue in some schools, while behind the scenes they were trying to bastardize it to fit their needs. What Hicks resignation means is that Reading Recovery will not continue in the district as RR teachers will no longer be able to retain certifications. But we know that was the goal all along.

MNPS HR strikes again. On Friday, principals introduced teachers to the new attendance policy as mandated by the recently passed Memorandum of Understanding between MNEA and the district, and it wasn’t received well. According to the explanation supplied by HR, teachers who utilized all their sick days, or occurrences, in a given year could be subject to a disciplinary write-up. That was never the intent, nor is it reflective of what was negotiated. However, MNEA leadership was present when HR’s version was rolled out at a recent principal meeting and felt no need to clarify despite visible confusion and anger by principals.

This is just one more example where current union leadership has failed teachers. The ranks of MNEA are filled with hard-working, dedicated, public servants who have been frustrated with leadership’s failure to adequately advocate for them. This is in no way a criticism of the union, whom I believe under proper leadership, could be and will be a vital advocate for teachers. This past election, the miscommunication of the MOU, and other incidents point to a current leadership team that feels entitled to their positions and places their agenda over the needs of teachers. I can only pray that at some point members take back their union and refocus it on what it was created for, to serve teachers.

In an effort to pass on positive news when I hear it, it was recently conveyed to me that district Number 2 guy Sito Narcisse did exemplary work on the recent High School Football Jamboree. I was very happy to hear it, though I must add that when I tried to confirm this opinion with other sources, I was met with a look akin to having just reported a sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Take it for what it’s worth.

I also heard this week that a kind soul mailed Dr. Joseph a map of the downtown library. That was very considerate of them and will hopefully ease future exits for the director.

POLL RESULTS

We gotta a whole lot of responses to this week’s poll questions. For the first time, responses numbered over 200 per question. Let’s review.

The first question asked for your thoughts on Fran Bush winning a seat on the school board over incumbent Tyese Hunter and the effect it would have on Dr. Joseph. 31% of you responded that it was a blow and that he had lost an important ally. While 20% of you indicated that you didn’t think Dr. Joseph knew a school board even existed. Only 5% of you thought the effect would be negligible. Here are the write-ins:

Fran Bush is the real deal. Watch out Dr. J. 1
Doesn’t. He will continue to do whatever he wants. 1
depends on how the new voices are heard 1
Not sure, but I hope Pinkston takes your advice. 1
I imagine he’s a little nervous at the moment. 1
Scared as he counts votes who may fire him. 1
I can ONLY HOPE his days are numbered. He lost one of his alllies. Good! 1
Who knows? But no more goo goo eyes betwen him and Tyese 1
I think he’ll take another job before the year is out. 1
I hope there are changes 1
I pray that the board holds his feet to the fire!!! 1
I hope the newbies hold his feet to the fire

Second question asked who you thought should be the next chair of the MNPS school board. 63% of you favored the choice of Frogge. Speering was second with 24% of the vote. Interestingly enough, third place went to the newly elected Pupo-Walker, who drew more votes than 2-year veteran Buggs.

Frogge has indicated that she has no desire to take up the position, and in fact, she supports Speering. Shepherd and Gentry have both already held the position and have proven unable to provide a semblance of adequate leadership. Pinkston can’t be bothered to show up for work most days, so he’s unsuitable for the position. All the others are too inexperienced to assume the mantle.

That leaves Speering, who despite recent public criticism of Joseph, remains the best option. Speering has 35 years of educational experience to draw upon, and I believe that many of her public stances derived from the board’s failure to have meaningful conversations. I think as chair, she would recognize the magnitude of the position and would conduct public business as such. Some question whether Joseph would work with her or not, but in my eyes that is immaterial.

Despite the way business has been conducted over the last two years, the director works for the board and not the other way around. If Joseph finds himself unable to work under Speering, like any employee that finds themselves under the supervision of a boss they don’t personally care for, he is free to seek employment elsewhere. Joseph’s feelings should be irrelevant in the decision of who becomes chair. In Prince George’s County, the director may get to dictate who they work for, but in Nashville it’s the voters who do.

Here are the write ins:

None 1
Frogge. Really, as long as it isn’t Pinkston. 1
Hurts him but not very much

Question 3, asked for what quadrant you claim. The majority of you, 63%, continue to call the southern quadrants home. Though the Northern quads are well represented. I do need to focus more efforts on the Northwest quadrant. Here are those write-ins:

Magnet 1
Live in Southeast, teach in Southwest, heart is in both! 1
Live – southeast, work – northeast

And that is a wrap. As always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Enjoy the first day of school. I leave you with Vesia Hawkins’ reflections on the day.

Posted in Uncategorized

LOSING SUCKS

I thought all night about what’d I’d say about yesterday’s school board election results. Don’t be too bitter. Be gracious. Be optimistic. And after all that rumination, the best I can come up with is… losing sucks. Getting your ass kicked… sucks even more. And no matter how you slice it… I got my ass kicked.

I lost by over 2,000 votes to a woman who listed “being the only mom in the race” as one of her top qualifications and who is married to a sitting Metro Council member. Something that I thought would be a cause for pause among voters, but apparently, I’m alone in my concerns about conflicts of interest.

I only managed a handful of votes more than a man who raised less than a thousand dollars, placed no signs, and had no presence at the polls on election day. In fact, he managed to garner over 1,500 votes. That is not insignificant.

Another man who literally did absolutely nothing managed to secure 763 votes. To this day, I’ve never met the man and couldn’t pick him out if he was one of only two people in front of me.

Eddie Arnold, who ran in 2014, managed to double his vote total this year from his last go around. He raked in over 1,200 votes.

Taken together, it’s safe to say that I did not create a compelling narrative. That’s on me, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow.

What makes it especially hard to swallow is that I didn’t run for the personal honor of serving on the school board, but rather to give amplification to the voices that have so long gone unheard. There is only one reason that I got as many votes as I did: teachers. Teachers stepped out of their comfort zone and not only supported me with their words, but with their actions as well. Each of them would probably offer a counter, but I let them down and that will always be a mark on me.

I didn’t have a big PAC giving me donations of several thousand dollars. What I had was teachers and families reaching into their pockets and giving me checks of $25 and $50. Think about that – you’ve got people, knowing that they are going to take home less money next year, taking from their budget and giving you money they can easily find better uses for because they believe in you. I don’t take that lightly.

It wasn’t out of personal ambition that I ran for the board. I believe that MNPS is on a disastrous path and that I have a special skill set that could possibly change that. A skill set that was acquired through hard work and the trust of educators. Nothing has changed there. I still believe that. The way that the current administration conducts business is not good for kids, families, or professional educators. That is not opinion, but rather fact that can be backed with data.

It is my fear that in response to these bad policies, teachers and principals will retreat into their individual classrooms and schools, shut the door, and mitigate policy in a manner that works for their schools. Some of you may think that is a good thing. Nobody knows their schools like the people in the building, right?

That may be true, but you are making the assumption that all principals are created equal. That all schools have the same demographics and resources. That all teachers are created equal and that there is endless supply of quality educators. That’s not true. A lack of strong district policy will lead to greater inequities across the district. Some schools will thrive, but many will falter and those will be swept into the shadows.

The new board members do give me some cause for guarded optimism. Gini Pupo-Walker knows the system as well as anyone, is a tireless worker, and is usually on the side of angels, though her positive positions on both testing and Teach For America give me concerns. In the past, her bark has often been worse than her bite and I’m hoping – ok, praying – that in her new role she bites a little more.

She’s going to need all of her moxie to stand up to the influence of board member Will Pinkston and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. Pinkston, who despite his inability to regularly attend school board meetings, continues to be an effective shadow warrior manipulating fellow board members and giving continuous cover to Shawn Joseph as he focuses the majority of his considerable expertise on Bredesen’s Senate campaign. Pupo-Walker and Pinkston have had their differences in the past, so it should be interesting to watch that relationship play out.

When it comes to Rachael Anne Elrod, I’ve been guarded in my opinions over the last several months. But now that I’ve removed my candidate hat, and my blogger hat is fully affixed, I’ve got some opinions. I hope she does her homework. Her grasp of the issues so far has struck me as tenuous at best. She taught almost a decade ago and the realities have changed a whole lot since then.

The good news is that she seems to project a desire to emulate current board member Amy Frogge. That is cause for optimism as long as she remembers nobody does their homework like Frogge.

As an active father of two kids, I’m not sure how you balance the demands of two 4-year-olds, a husband who is a council member, and the time demands being a school board member requires. Furthermore, I’m interested to see how future votes in both Metro Council and MNPS will play out when the two entities are entwined. Bottom line, though, is that voters in District 2 elected her by a large margin to be our representative, and she deserves the support that comes with that.

Which brings me to Fran Bush. I’m going to be as blunt as possible here and if it offends, what do I have to lose? MNEA and SEIU need to get their heads out of their ass. Both unions not only failed to support Bush, but actively worked against her. That’s on them and to their detriment, and Bush has already taken the high road.

On Channel 5’s Open Line forum this week, Bush not only wore red in solidarity with teachers, but spoke of a deep commitment to improving their lives within MNPS. People need to reach out to her and support her efforts. That’s where the raises are going to come from. Wearing red isn’t enough.

There was an effort during the election season to paint her as “crazy.” After meeting her and doing the research, I’ve come away with the opinion that she’s “crazy” like Amy Frogge was 6 years ago. We need more of that “crazy.”

Crazy, in this case, means passionate, idealistic, hard-working, and willing to learn. Bush will have some missteps; she’s a neophyte, after all. But I get the feeling she’s a fast learner. She comes off as a very classy lady, but she’s the mother of 5 boys, so don’t think for a moment that she’s going to be a pushover.

Former board member Tyese Hunter learned that the hard way. She tried to intimidate Bush several times at the polls, and Bush never once backed down. This victory fills me with the most optimism, and I’m convinced Bush is headed to greatness.

A couple last notes on Fran Bush. She beat an incumbent and did it with no money. Frogge’s grassroots victory 6 years ago was impressive, but she had some funding. Bush’s last financial disclosure shows she’s $2k in the hole.

Bush also not only beat an incumbent, but one who had the MNPS Director of Schools as an ally. An ally who not only used his position as Director of Schools, but also the official MNPS communications system, as a tool to undermine her campaign. That can not be understated.

So, what’s it all mean for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph? I don’t know. Much depends upon who becomes board chair. I suspect that Pinkston will continue to wrangle board members into compliance and Joseph will be left to his own devices. That in itself does not bode well for Joseph and his administration.

Whether I write another word, or the board asks a single question, the biggest obstacle for Shawn Joseph remains Shawn Joseph. But I believe we’ve reached a tipping point. There are already rumblings that he tried to use his influence to undermine Sheri Weiner’s campaign for Vice Mayor. The district has canceled much-needed professional development for SEL due to budget constraints. Yesterday, teachers were put in a time machine and sent back to 1995 for district wide professional development, thereby eating up valuable classroom prep time. It’s not ideological issues that will be his undoing, just the inability to do the day-to-day job.

Going forth, current board members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering will need our support more than ever. I suspect there will be an increased effort to isolate the two, especially Speering, by fellow board members. That can’t happen, and it’s important that new board members resist those efforts. Open questioning and transparency shouldn’t be an offense, but rather the norm.

The one thing I consistently heard from people at the polls is that this lack of transparency is killing MNPS. Board members need to understand that destruction won’t come with a mustachioed villain tying the school district to the railroad track. It’ll come with families quietly, systematically disengaging. Once that trend becomes wholesale, it’ll become impossible to reverse.

Families who leave aren’t coming back. Professional educators who leave aren’t coming back. As school starts back up, I urge you to take a look around and note just how many are already missing. A charter school operator asked me a couple of weeks ago what I thought they should do. My reply was, “Nothing but call architects.”

It wasn’t by accident, or due to recent defeats, that kept charter school money out of this year’s school board race. There just wasn’t a compelling reason to invest as things are already trending in their favor. And this shouldn’t be considered criticism against them – I’m certainly not getting back into that fight while the district serves as their best recruiter – it’s just an indictment of our current landscape. I do find it ironic that Pinkston’s machinations serve to empower his self-proclaimed enemies.

He’ll point to no new charter schools opening during the last 2 years as a sign of success, while failing to acknowledge the growth in the number of students attending the existing schools. Without a correction in how MNPS is performing, increased charter growth is inevitable. That may anger some, but it’s the reality.

That’s one thing that is freeing about not being on the school board and having had my background publicly exposed – I no longer have to worry about retribution from Will Pinkston and can freely discuss his failings as a school board member.

Who knows, maybe now he’ll manage to stay for a whole meeting sometime in the future. My hope is that he’ll head off to Washington DC and allow somebody to take his place that will put the needs of MNPS staff and families in the forefront and not treat them as an afterthought to someone else’s political aspirations.

I would be remiss at this time if I didn’t take a moment to thank Mary Pierce for her service. We didn’t always, or even often, agree. But I admire her work ethic and the fierceness in which she defended the families who looked to her for leadership. Enjoy that family, Mary, and I look with anticipation to your future endeavors.

I also need to take a moment to point out the pitiful state that education reporting has gotten to in the Tennessean. They were able to fully investigate my past while failing to give full coverage to the District’s response to TNReady results, the Director’s evaluation, or any meaningful coverage to the school board race.

It should be noted that the Tennessean was instrumental in the selection of Joseph as Director of Schools, and as a result, they seem to have become more comfortable in the role of cheerleader instead of public watchdog. I’m actually not sure if Jason Gonzales’s office is at Bransford Avenue or in the McNeely, Pigott, and Fox office suite. Hopefully, since Frank Daniels has experience with education reporting, the new Nashville Scene will fill the void left by the Tennessean’s abdication of responsibility. A free and independent press is essential.

I need to thank Pam Swoner, Laura Kelley, Karen Hensley, and a player to be named later who all volunteered to man a poll position for 12 hours yesterday. You ladies are amazing.

So now we get to myself. What am I going to do? I admit, I’m hurting today, and I suspect I’ll be hurting for a number of days. Maybe weeks. I wanted this, maybe as much as I’ve wanted anything in the last decade. But it wasn’t to be.

The one thing I can’t ignore is that over 2,000 of you gave me one of the most precious things you have to offer, your vote. There were 37 of you who dug in your pocket and financially supported me. I don’t take any of that lightly. I owe you something for your investment, and I plan to deliver. That you can count on.

During the election, Valor Collegiate Academy families brought up that I had not visited their school. A valid criticism, and I promised to rectify that. I’ll try to honor that promise this month. I also promised a bus driver that I would ride a route with them – if they’ll contact me, I’ll honor that promise as well.

I take further solace in that my son and I had a fantastic day yesterday. It’s amazing to me that at just 7 years old, he was able to work the whole day at the polls with me. He’s a good kid, and I have a good daughter and a good wife. A wife who is going to do amazing things at H.G. Hill Middle School this year.

I would also caution sitting politicians not to discount the 2k voters who gave me support. Now would be the time to start discussions on a budget for next year that includes raises for teachers and support staff. We’ll be watching, and you can count on engagement if next year’s budget looks anything like this year’s budget.

I hope people don’t think I’m going anywhere. I take inspiration from the words of Joseph Campbell:

“Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems the most challenging.” 

Thank you all for your support.

I didn’t mean for this whole post to be about the election. There is still a lot for us to talk about. Things like kindergarten and fine arts portfolios, capital needs, the old Tusculum building coming down, the status of English Learners, etc. We’ll get into that on Monday.

Until then, as always, you can contact me at norinrad10@yahoo.com. Make sure you check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. We’ll have lots of pictures up of the first day of school. As always, make sure you answer the poll questions. See ya Monday.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

MONEY, IT’S A GAS

Saturday at 4:30 PM, early voting for this year’s school board race came to an end. Well, in all fairness, it was also the end of early voting for the governor primaries, the vice-mayor contest, and several other races. The early turnout for these races has been pretty impressive. A total of 56,843 people, or 14% of eligible voters, have already cast their ballot.

It was a long 10 days of early voting that saw me spending a great deal of time at the Edmondson Pike Library meeting voters. Something I enjoyed immensely. Y’all have the ability to touch my soul.

On the flip side though, I’ve discovered that running for office is one of those things that becomes so all-encompassing that it’s very easy to lose perspective. It becomes all you think about and you naturally begin to assume that it’s all other people are thinking about as well. And that they are attaching the same level of importance as you are to it.

Spend some time at the polls and that fallacy becomes exposed. Primary voter focus remains with the state level races, with the scraps falling to the other races. The good news is that the vast majority of voters are receptive to talking to you, and so with a solid pitch, and the credentials to back it up, you can sway people to your side. Never underestimate the power of a friendly greeting and a well-constructed elevator speech.

Unfortunately, the limited timeline and the need to constantly secure one more voter makes it very easy to lose sight of other priorities. I started to fall into that trap yesterday, but caught myself, and so I shut off the computer and asked the boy if he wanted to play some catch. We went out in the backyard and tossed the ball around for a bit, and then I took both kids to the pool. I didn’t secure any additional votes, but I certainly impacted two young lives.

With school getting started in about 10 days, I think this is an important lesson for teachers not to lose sight of. Over the next several weeks you’ll see school parking lots start to swell on weekends. There is a limited time schedule and the endless need to do just one last thing for their students, and it will cause teachers to begin sacrificing their own time to go in to work, uncompensated for their time.

Teachers, resist, and make sure you strike the proper work/life balance. Principals, don’t become enablers by publicly congratulating those who sacrifice their personal time. Don’t let unpaid work become even more of an expectation. SEL is just as important for teachers as it is for students, and we need to make sure that addressing teacher mental health is a priority.

While we are talking about the election, let’s talk money for a minute. This is another subject that has proved illuminating by being a candidate. Up until running for this election, and despite working on other’s campaigns in the past, I was fairly naive about the whole financing process of a campaign.

I knew that a candidate needed to raise money, and so they approached donors, but I didn’t really understand how that all worked or the real cost of a campaign. I was a little apprehensive because the money involved in the 2014 and 2016 races for school board was astronomical, with candidates raising a combined $350k. This year, things are considerably more subdued.

There are several reasons for the lack of money in this year’s school board race. First, many of the outside entities that contributed heavily in previous years are noticeably absent for this year’s race. Stand for Children and the Scarlett Foundation, two entities that invested tens of thousands in the last go around, have taken a pass this year.

Secondly, due to an unplanned Mayoral and Vice-Mayoral election, a crowded field for the gubernatorial primaries, and a high-profile state senatorial race, there is less money to trickle down to the school board level. The advice given to me back in May was raise early, spend early.

Lastly, fewer entities are doing endorsements this year. Endorsements tend to come with substantial financial rewards. As a prime example, neither the Nashville Scene, nor the Tennessean, have endorsed candidates this year. A break from the past.

Those organizations that are doing endorsements are attaching fewer financial rewards to them. Most endorsements are coming with either no money or a reasonable $500. Save for one, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. They are still trying to flex their muscles.

Here’s where things get interesting. Earlier in the year, I suspect due to the negative connotations they derived from previous elections, the Chamber changed the name of its political action committee to Nashvillians for a more Pliable School Board, or something like that. Ok, it’s actual name is Nashvillians for an Effective School Board (NESB). But you get the picture.

They are still handing out big money donations. Substantially more than other entities. For comparison, MNEA and SIEU both attached only $500 to their endorsement. But NESB awarded more than 10 times that amount to their preferred candidates.

In District 8, they gave their candidate Gini Pupo-Walker $4k. In my district, District, 2, they awarded their pick Rachael Elrod $7.5k. Hmmm… not sure why District 2 is worth more than District 8… but ok. District 4, Anna Shepherd, got no money because she’s running unopposed. In District 6, we have no idea how much they contributed because their candidate, incumbent Tyese Hunter, has yet to file a required financial disclosure. More on that in a second.

So let’s put this into perspective for a minute. That $7.5k the Chamber – let’s dispense with formalities and call them by their rightful name – infused into the race is $2k higher than my total earnings, which are a very respectable roughly $5k. An amount arrived at through donations from 35 different people. An amount I’m extremely proud of because I know the sacrifice that went into each of those donations. Many coming from teachers who this year will take home less money than they did last year. We’ll talk more about that in the future.

So with one fell swoop, the Chamber was able to give one candidate sufficient financial resources to put them in a place where they could focus on other responsibilities besides fundraising. Based on the fact that Mrs. Elrod only raised an additional $2,200, I can only assume that raising money did become less of a priority. I think it’s safe to say that the wife of a Metro Councilman with her background is capable of raising much more than $2,200 if necessary. But the Chamber made it unnecessary.

On an interesting side note, elections make strange bedfellows. Board member, and frequent critic of the Chamber, Will Pinkston, finds himself in alignment with the their goals, as he contributed $500 of the additional $2,200 Elrod raised. Just goes to show you… well, never mind.

In District 6, since we don’t know what their endorsed candidate received, we can only assume the Chamber awarded the full $7,500 to Tyese Hunter as well. That is significant because of her challengers, Aaron McGee has raised roughly $3,600, Fran Bush is in the hole, and Earl Latimore hasn’t filed disclosures. That Chamber money equates to giving a significant advantage to their chosen candidate. Unfortunately, money matters.

Right now you are probably thinking, “Whatever, TC. What’s the matter with a few business people who care about our school system donating some money to candidates that they think will improve outcomes? After all, businesses throw millions in to our schools with little return. So give it a rest and quit your belly aching.”

Fair point. Business leaders should be able to put their money wherever they want. That’s part of living in a democracy and is certainly their right. But is it their money we are talking about here?

During recent budget hearings, it came to light that the Metro Nashville Government subsidizes the Chamber to the tune of about $350k a year. In those budget hearings, CM David Rosenberg proposed cutting that subsidy. That seemed a reasonable proposition considering that city workers had their raises cut from the budget this year. Everyone should sacrifice. Council Members didn’t see it that way, and the Chamber got their money. I’m not going to give you the individual votes, but you look it up. You won’t be surprised.

To draw a clear picture, what’s happening here is that the Chamber is receiving tax payer money and investing in influencing local elections simultaneously. There may not be a direct line between the money received from tax payers and the money given to candidates, but ask yourself, if the Chamber has enough money to invest in candidates to the maximum legal amount allowed, while others are cutting their donations to candidates, do they really need your money to push their agenda?

For me, this influence isn’t a significant factor. In the immortal words of Sonny and Cher, “I got you, babe.” That, and 5 years of being in schools. 5 years of building relationships and establishing a reputation. Through this blog I have a platform to get my message out and to inform you on things that you might not normally be aware of. And let me tell you, your support, both over the years and at the polls, has been phenomenal.

In District 6, things are a little different, though. While all three challengers have excellent track records of working in schools with kids, along with great ideas to improve the system, they find themselves at a disadvantage in conveying those records and ideas to the general public due to financial restraints.

Mailers run around $1k a campaign and 100 signs run around $500, not including artwork which can run another $200. Not only is there little money for mailers and additional signs, but time that could be spent conveying their platform is instead spent on fundraising. I salute these District 6 candidates for their tenacity and willingness to try to climb the mountain in an effort to improve their communities, despite the considerable obstacle placed in their path. It’s a shame that their willingness is not rewarded with a level playing field.

So why has incumbent Tyese Hunter not filed her disclosures? I don’t know. There has been virtually no media coverage on the lack of information on who’s funding Hunter’s re-election. Which is inexcusable. This is exactly why a free and independent press is so vital to democracy. The fact that an incumbent can get to the final week of an election without meeting the prescribed election commission requirements should be of grave concern to everyone. Somebody needs to be held accountable.

I think it’s also imperative that going forth in next year’s Metropolitan Budget, we take a lot closer look at who’s getting subsidized and who’s not. We can’t just punish the people who make the city run while allowing others to continue to spread their influence unencumbered.

LAB RATS

Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) is coming to MNPS. Well, they were in 5 schools last year, but this year that list is expanding to 25 schools as part of a study by Florida State University. According to MNPS Chief of Instruction Monique Felder:

Twenty-five MNPS schools (see list of participating schools attached) will be involved in this study. Schools were selected based on interest and/or student achievement data. Because this study is an experiment, 13 schools will be randomly assigned to the Treatment condition and 12 schools will be randomly assigned to the Control condition in November 2018. The study will roll outslowly with Kindergarten teachers in the Treatment Group of schools implementing CKLA’s Knowledge Strand this school year(2018-2019); 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2019-2020, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021. Kindergarten teachers in the Control Group will implement the CKLA Knowledge Strand in 2019-2020; 1st grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2020-2021, and 2nd grade teachers will implement the curriculum in 2021-2022. On- going professional development and ALL materials will be provided to each teacher at no cost to the school or district.

Interestingly enough, all 25 participating schools are in the NW and NE quadrants. I’ve got some initial qualms. Primarily being the use of our students as guinea pigs. As a parent, I would have a hard time knowing my children would be placed in either the controlled or treatment group. I would want a guarantee that my kids are receiving the best possible instructional curriculum, not being used as a development tool.

Secondly, I’m real loathe to place even more responsibility on the shoulders of Kindergarten and first grade teachers that are already struggling to adapt to the state’s new evaluation tools. The state has put them in an untenable position by forcing them into a portfolio system of evaluation that is not fully developed, and now the district wants them to participate in a study that may do further damage to their professional reputation.

Sure, teachers are being told that CKLA lines up well with the portfolio model, but if that proves to be untrue, who pays the price? In a district that already suffers from a lack of trust, this just feels like a disaster waiting to happen.

National results indicate that CKLA has shown success, but in MNPS the results have not been as promising. Of the five schools currently piloting CKLA, none have shown overwhelming evidence of its effectiveness.

Further irony comes from the fact that several years ago, Tennesseans rejected the Common Core standards and created their own. MNPS is now conducting a study using a program that describes itself thus:

Only CKLA reflects what expert educators, cognitive scientists and the authors of the Common Core State Standards already know: background knowledge and foundational skills are the keys to early literacy.

POLL RESULTS

A lot of you had opinions this week. Unfortunately for Dr. Joseph and district leadership, they weren’t complimentary. Let’s look at the results.

The first question asked the question that NOAH asked at their school board candidate forums, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?”

150 of you responded, with 92 of you, 61%, saying “absolutely not.” 34 of you, 23%, indicated that you still wanted to say yes, but couldn’t. That means 84% of you answered in a negative manner. Only 1 of you answered, “absolutely.” 8 of you indicated that he still, despite challenges, had your support. I know that Dr. Joseph is a proponent of tuning out the noise, but it feels like the din is getting deafening.

Here are the write-ins:

I support good policy 1
MNPS Faculty member: I’m split between sadness and anger that my answer is NO. 1
He has the same issue as Braden! 1
The real question is does he support me as a teacher? Leaning no on that one. 1
Dr. Joseph should be supporting Staff and students. How I feel about him does n 1
NO. Dr. Joseph has become part of the problem, not the solution.

Question two asked for your opinion on the handling of principal Sam Braden’s actions at JFK Middle School. 145 of you answered this one, with 74 of you, 54%, referring to it as a dumpster fire. 48 of you, 34%, indicated that it was the same old incompetence. Only 1 of you, I’m assuming it’s the same person who answered affirmatively to the previous question, indicated it was being handled properly.

Here are the write-ins:

He has bullied teachers for years and gotten away with it. 1
This has been Sam Braden MO for years. Someone needs to check out the wife! 1
Despicable. No excuse for letting this go on 1
Intentional sweep under the rug 1
HR should have been put on administrative leave for gross incompetence! 1
There are others—Smith Springs is just as bad! 1
“I haven’t looked into it enough. That’s not my job.” — Tyese Hunter 1
Embarrassing! 1
Covering up slime. All HR has to go.

The last question asked for your prediction on the Vice-Mayor race. If Dad Gone Wild readers are to be believed, Sheri Weiner wins this race 51% to 35%. We appreciate MNEA head Erick Huth’s write-in vote.

Undecided 2
didn’t 1
I have not yet made up my mind. 1
Erick Huth… been around and knows all 1
*Who* not *how*

And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send my way as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

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

Above and beyond all… vote on Thursday. Tell your friends to vote on Thursday. Tell your friend’s friends to vote on Thursday. Every vote counts.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

IS THIS THING ON?

“Experience has shown, and a true philosophy will always show, that a vast, perhaps the larger, portion of truth arises from the seemingly irrelevant.”
Edgar Allan Poe, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt

I write today’s post as dawn breaks. There are only two days left in early voting and I need to spend as much time at the polls as possible, and I’m trying to dash this off.

One of the joys of this campaign, has been the opportunity to meet and interact with so many of you. I can’t tell you the thrill I get when you walk up and confess to being a regular reader. It’s something that really fills me with pride and gratitude. I’m extremely grateful for your patronage.

It would be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous outpouring of support I’ve received from MNPS educators, both past and present. Y’all are the story of this election and when I win, it’s a story that needs to be repeated. This is what happens when teachers use their voice and I’ll make sure I amplify it. Not an hour goes by at the polls where I don’t meet either a teacher, or someone inspired by a teacher, coming to cast a ballot for me. All I can is…thank you.

CONTINUED HR FAILURE

The fall out continued this week over the actions, and subsequent mishandling of the investigation, of JFK MS Principal Sam Braden. On Tuesday he had a front row seat at the principal meeting seemingly impervious to charges of sexual and financial misconduct. On Wednesday, he was placed on administrative leave and MNPS HR announced a deeper investigation.

Last night, Channel 5’s investigative report Phil Williams went to the polling stations seeking feedback from school board candidates. Current school board member Tyese Hunter admitted that she hadn’t attended Tuesday’s closed door session of the school board because she was out campaigning.

When asked, “Based on what you know now, do you think it was properly investigated?”

Hunter replied,

“I don’t know enough now because I haven’t actually seen — I’m sure you probably did a show or something on it. I haven’t had an opportunity to see anything personally.”

Challengers for her seat, Fran Bush and Aaron McGee had their own opinions. With Bush stating,

“That is something that should have been handled very quickly,” she added. “Instead it lagged. It was not handled in a timely manner. That is the reason that the community was so concerned.”

McGee had the following to say,

“Once the allegation was made, the policy has to be followed to the T, and Dr. Braden should have been placed on administrative leave,”

Dr. Joseph has taken the unfolding controversy as an opportunity to admonish principals to adhere to the highest standards. At this weeks principal meeting he warned them of the perils of engaging in the act of gossip. I never understand why managers think that this tactic will work. It is a tactic that invariantly leads to more gossip.

If you don’t want people to gossip, than be transparent and supply a compelling narrative that is backed up by actions and facts. Devoid of a compelling narrative, people will supply their own and it is usually error ridden and negative. I think this is something that is covered during the first week of Leadership 101. Sorry, I’m tired and feeling a little snarky.

Joseph followed up his words with an email that was sent not once, but twice to district employees. An email that had many asking whether they worked for a school district or the Syndicate. My favorite was the bullet point saying leaders should not bribe. Up until this letter I was a little unclear on whether that was a go or no go. Consider the confusion cleared up.

Meanwhile as the Channel 5 story is still unfolding, over on Channel 2 another HR mishandling was being covered. Hey, if one news story is good…2 is great…right?

Long term MNPS employee Stephen Henry if you’ll remember was arrested a month ago on meth charges. Full disclosure here, I’ve known Henry for a number of years and consider him a friend. While I find his actions deplorable, I’ve also seen the flip side of Henry and fully understand the dark side of addiction. Thankfully he is seeking treatment and making progress. That however does not put things above reproach.

In light of those actions, Channel 2 took a closer look at his MNPS personal file and found that not everything was as it first appeared. Initially it was reported that Henry was transferred to Johnson Alternative Learning Center, a school were students are transferred because their behavior has led to expulsion, due to budgetary concerns. After News 2 asked multiple questions about this, a school spokesperson confirmed the real reason for the transfer was because of the parent complaints due to Henry’s job performance.

MNPS spokes person Dawn Rutledge broke out the common refrain used to defend MNPS HR this summer, she believes the error on the transfer form was a human mistake but that the school system is investigating what happened.

The investigation needs to go a lot deeper than this one incident and in fact, I would say a complete audit on the performance of HR needs to be conducted. It’s not enough to just shrug and say, “Human error” three times fast. Somebody needs to be accountable for the continuing incompetence that has plagued the MNPS Human Resource Department.

Unless of course it is all by design. In that case, we need to have a whole other conversation.

QUICK HITS

It’s been over a week now since the state of Tennessee has released the state and district results of this years TNReady tests, yet still there is not statement in response from the district on said results. Is the plan here to just ignore them and hope nobody will notice? It should be noted that the TN Department of Education makes results known to districts several weeks in advance before releasing them to the public.

Speaking of evaluations, the state mandated  pre-k/kindergarten portfolio model of evaluation has made it to my radar. Andy Spears of TNEd Report touched on some of the issues back in June. Last week scores were released and the clamor has only grown. While I don’t fully have my head wrapped around the issues yet, I’m dropping this here as a place holder for further investigation in the coming month.

Professional educator Zac Barnes continues to offer insight into educational issues via his recently launched Tip Sheet. Check it out.

NOAH this week completed a series of forums with this year’s school board candidates. One of their questions to each candidate was, “Do you support Dr. Joseph?” My response was that I support good policy and that should be the metric, not whether an individual is supported or not. I went further and said that I believe entirely too much focus is placed on whether individual board members support Dr. Joseph or not.

In my eyes, a board member’s job is not to support the director but rather to supervise them and ensure that they are carrying out the board’s directives as dictated by the folks that elected the board member. A role reversal seems to have occurred where some think that it is the director that supervises the board instead of the other way around. A correction needs to be made and the focus shouldn’t be on whether the board member supports Dr. Joseph,but rather, if the community supports Dr. Joseph. That is where question one of this week’s poll derives from. Just thought I’d offer some clarification.

Governor Hallam is on the way out the door and Andy Spears evaluates his exit interview.

I can’t seem to stop listening to the new Jayhawks record.

The new marquee is up at Tusculum ES and it looks fabulous. What a long strange trip it’s been. Now let’s talk about those needed additional classrooms that were cut from the original plans.

School starts back in two weeks. Send me your back to school pictures. The email is norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’d love to share them on the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page. Hope springs eternal.

Looking for school supply lists? View the lists here:

Colorado, like Tennessee, created the seal of biliteracy in order to recognize multilingual students. Unfortunately not many districts have taken on the work. Aurora isn’t yet offering the new seal of biliteracy, so Math teacher Susan Holloway took it upon herself to help 15 seniors at her school win the recognition.

While benefits of the seal of bi-literacy have been slow to materialize, Halloway offered this hope.

“I hope, No. 1, that it allows them to know just how good they are, she said. “This is above the high school level. It’s an advanced level of proficiency. I hope it invites them to participate in our world and I hope it helps to get them a job and that they take that whole understanding of their global citizenship with them.”

Wish I had time to write more, but the polls are calling. If you come out to the Edmondson Library make sure you give me a shout out.

Make sure you answer tis week’s poll questions and If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

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

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized

LET NONE PRESUME TO WEAR AN UNDESERVED DIGNITY

I try to adhere to a schedule of posting a new column regularly on Mondays and Fridays. At times, Monday has turned into Tuesday, but for the most part, I try to follow a set schedule. There are times when a midweek entry is deemed a necessity, and on occasion I’ll throw in the stray guest column or educator interview – I know, the great Tim Drinkwine interview is still lost to wander in editing purgatory.

This being the last week before election day, the last thing on my radar was the writing of a midweek piece. Unfortunately, the fates conspired against me, and a number of events occurred that couldn’t be left until Friday without comment. So here we are with a special midweek edition.

‘The fault, dear Brutus, lies not within the stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.’

The week kicked off with a special report from Phil Williams at Channel 5 News covering the accusations against JFK Middle School principal Sam Braden. Due to the story’s prurient nature, it could only be aired at 10pm. I think it’s safe to say that most viewers found the story extremely disconcerting. If the accusations hold to be true, then once again, MNPS Human Resources has dropped the ball.

It needs to be noted that before stories of this nature even hit the air, they are excruciatingly vetted by the news station’s legal department. I think, at times, there is a misconception that reporters write and air stories with little vetting. Nothing could be further from the truth. Legal makes damn sure that facts are verified and that the station faces as little legal exposure as possible.

While the story that aired is disturbing enough, it’s the documentation from MNPS files that is shared online by Channel 5 that pushes things over the top. It’s 130 pages long, filled with accusations against Braden and little indication of action by MNPS.

MNPS spokesperson Dawn Rutledge initially acknowledged that Braden should have been put on administrative leave pending an investigation, but, according to Channel 5 News, she claims that the initial leave letter was improperly drafted:

“There was some confusion regarding reissuing a corrected leave letter to reflect our current practice,” she said. “Unfortunately, the re-issuance of the correct version of the administrative leave letter did not take place and Dr. Braden returned to work.”

Huh? That makes no sense. It’s almost like admitting there was no priority attached to properly vetting the charges. It’s like they are saying, “We meant to correct that letter, but we got busy and…. well, you know.”

That should be unacceptable to everybody, and there should be some accountability when a task of this magnitude fails to get properly completed. Unfortunately, MNPS prefers to circle the wagons rather than address its failings in a transparent manner.

Word on the street is that Braden is not going anywhere. Dr. Joseph is going to leave him in place as the principal at JFK MS. How anybody thinks he can be effective in light of recent events is a mystery to me. But if you think about it, the strategy is no different than that employed over the last two years at Antioch HS. Deny, deny, deny, and when you can’t deny anymore… deny some more.

The school board has little to say about the situation. At a recent community forum for District 6 candidates, the question was asked if the candidates support Dr. Joseph. Incumbent Tyese Hunter replied in the affirmative, “100%. You can count on me to serve him.”

What’s that song again?

You know they can’t play on my court
Can’t hang with the big dogs
Stay on the porch 

‘All that Glitters is not Gold’

After three years as the head of MNPS English Learners program, Kevin Stacey resigned as Executive Director of EL two months ago and was replaced by Director Molly Stovall. Instead of posting the opening, conducting interviews, checking references, and hiring the best candidate to take Stovall’s place, Director of Schools Shawn Joseph promoted former Prince George’s County colleague and current principal of Paragon Mills ES, Dr. Joie Austria, to the position.

This move has raised some eyebrows because Austria’s tenure at Paragon Mills, by most accounts, could be, at best, considered a troubled one. Internal climate surveys did not paint a picture of an administrator who was deft at handling staff. There were also questions in relation to Austria’s qualifications for the position.

Let’s hop in the way-back machine for a second, and head back to January of 2017. That’s when Channel 5 News ran the story about several principal transplants who were not properly licensed in the state of Tennessee. Austria was among that group, and she had just become licensed in December after being employed by MNPS for nearly 6 months.

Apparently that mistake was not an outlier. When checking the TN Department of Education website and looking her up by her legal name, Maria Delores Nones Austria, I find that she has a Beginning Administrator License (ILL-B) with an endorsement for “Beginning Administrator PreK-12.” What she doesn’t have is an endorsement for English Learner Instruction.

Wait a minute. I had to check again. When I looked again at her licenses in Tennessee, something curious caught my eye. As of July 10, 2018, just two weeks ago, Austria was issued a “Practitioner Teacher” License with endorsements in both English 6-12 and ESL PreK-12. A practitioner teacher license is what is issued to a beginning teacher. Someone who is just starting out in the classroom. This begs the question: does she have the necessary experience to lead the English Learners program in this district considering she was only recently granted a beginning teacher license with an ESL endorsement in Tennessee? How does that make her qualified to lead this very important part of MNPS?

How does this not get caught by HR as a red flag? What exactly are the qualifications for a high level position such as this? Is this beginning teacher license the kind of qualifications needed for this position? It just doesn’t seem right. And given that she served in this position for months without any kind of EL certification or endorsement at all, I have to ask: is this the importance that we attach to the instruction of some of our most neediest kids?

A meeting is scheduled later this month between leaders of the immigrant and refugee community and Dr. Joseph. I hope that someone demands some accountability for this shortcoming. Having a second-in-command who does not hold the proper credentials or experience should not be acceptable to anyone. But what do I know?

‘Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand?’

The MNPS District 6 school board race gets weirder and weirder everyday. A couple of weeks ago, there was a forum held, and all the candidates were invited to participate. The incumbent, Tyese Hunter, chose not to attend this one. All other candidates were in attendance.

The day after the forum, the facilitator of the forum posted a message to social media saying:

Hello Friends,
I was alerted that some information shared during Saturday’s District 6 School Board Candidate Forum may not have been accurate according to Metro Schools. I received the following information today from Metro Nashville Public Schools as a means of correcting any inaccuracies shared by candidates during the forum. Please contact Metro Schools directly for any additional clarification or information.

Two days later, a fact sheet from MNPS was posted. Huh?

I’m not even going to get into a debate about the veracity of the “fact sheet,” though I have to wonder how it is that on social media two weeks ago, Antioch HS had 37 openings, while according to the “fact sheet” only 17 teachers left. That’s some new math.

What I find concerning is that MNPS feels compelled to fact check a forum where the incumbent was not present. In other words, they are refuting statements made by her challengers that bring into question her effectiveness. That’s not their job, and in my opinion, crosses the line into Little Hatch Territory (Hatch Act).

If there were inaccuracies stated at the forum, it’s the job of the incumbent to counter argue. It is not the school district’s place to paint challengers as misinformed by doing the incumbent’s job. By weighing in here, MNPS is putting the candidates at a disadvantage. Not only are they now battling for the seat, but they are fighting against the district. Very troubling.

‘This is very midsummer madness.’

It has been an absolutely horrible summer for the MNPS Human Resources Department. In fact, I’d argue that under the leadership of Deborah Story and Sharon Pertiller, the department has plunged to new depths and regularly fails to meet the needs of the MNPS staff, whom they are supposed to serve.

Yesterday, Pertiller presented the recently agreed upon Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the service unions and MNPS. It was a 30-minute presentation, and it was clear to everyone watching that she wanted to be anywhere but at that meeting explaining employee rights.

These MOU’s are a huge deal that represents a great deal of work from all sides. They deserve more than a cursory explanation that leaves principals with more questions than answers. The intent is to improve the climate at MNPS. Yet, Pertiller refuses to place any investment in them. Without HR’s full support, these agreements become toothless.

Coupled with all the other errors made by HR this summer, one has to wonder what is it going to take before Dr. Joseph holds them accountable? Based on the way investigations into sexual misconduct have recently been handled, could an employee, if needed, count on HR? Where would an employee turn to with the expectation of fair treatment if placed in an untenable position? Who’s going to enforce the MOU, seeing as the heads of HR seem, at best, unfamiliar with its contents?

The Human Resources Department can not continue to conduct business as they have over the last year. The department heads seem under the impression that their primary job responsibility is to protect Dr. Joseph. Sadly they’ve been allowed to continue under this illusion.

Hey, I’ve got an idea. Maybe the Communications Department could create a “fact sheet” on the responsibilities and obligations of the Human Resources Department. That could prove helpful.

That’s it for today. Early voting is going on as we speak until Saturday. Please, if you want to change the conversation, and you live in District 2, get out the vote for Thomas Weber. Also, if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. I need every vote.

Posted in Uncategorized

TEST FOR ECHO

This past weekend, I sat down at the computer fully intending to take a deep dive into the newly released TNReady test scores. As happens so often, before I got to my intended task, I got sidetracked.

First, I read Andy Spear’s piece on the results at the TN Ed Report. Andy’s takeaway is as follows:

“So, we had a testing season full of lies, deception, disruption, and mixed-up tests but we’re supposed to look at the “results” of those tests and take them seriously? No thanks.”

Then I ended up over at Volume and Light blog reading Vesia Hawkins’ interpretation. Hawkins acknowledges the problems with this year’s tests, but argues they still have value:

Last year’s shockingly deplorable literacy scores sent me into an apoplectic rage. I simply could not grasp that more than 80 percent of children of color and 85 percent economically disadvantaged were not reading at grade level. Sadly, here we are one year later, still, more than 80 percent of Black, Brown, and children in poverty are not reading at grade level. A group of students in Detroit recently sued the state of Michigan for this very reason. Reading is the key that unlocks every other aspect of the educational experience. Without it, what else? Back to the chase: we have test scores. We must use them.”

I must stop and point out one, for lack of a better word, fallacy in Hawkins’ piece. She applauds MNPS Director of School’s Shawn Joseph for his repurposing of Reading Recovery teachers as first instruction teachers:

All I know is what I heard and the public position taken during the presentation resonates with me. Dr. Joseph proposed “restructuring” the Reading Recovery system in two ways: place the highly skilled Reading Recovery teachers in the twenty-one priority schools because as he so plainly stated, “priority schools have to be a priority” and instead of focusing on Tier 3 (greatest need) students, the former Reading Recovery teachers will focus on Tier 1 – whole group instruction. Nothing about this says restructuring, but I like it.

Call me when new Titan’s coach Mike Vrabel receives accolades for turning his wide receivers into linebackers. Teaching is like any other team sport; everybody has a role to play, and the team is most successful when you utilize people in a manner that reflects their skill set. But that’s another argument for another day.

After finishing Hawkins’ piece, I read PET director JC Bowman’s take. He points out:

Students improved most in early grades reading, and narrowed achievement gaps.  In addition, the results show a need for deeper, more sustained work to support improvement.  The release of the results of the latest statewide assessment, while flawed, do provide a data point for educators to consider.  We encourage them to look at the results, take the result seriously and consider the steps they need to take to help all students and schools succeed.

A key point that Bowman also makes, that I hope policy makers read repeatedly:

In general, we must always be careful in determining teacher performance based strictly on the test scores of students to whom the teacher is assigned during a school year. The risk of misidentifying and mislabeling teacher performance based on test scores is too high for it to be the major indicator of teacher performance, especially when you look at issues such as student demographic characteristics.

After reading all three of these excellent opinion pieces, I came to a realization. Before we can fully utilize the data that TNReady provides, we need to first agree that it is a valid form of measurement.

It’s like this, if I show up to help build a house, everybody involved in the construction agrees that a yard stick is a valid measurement tool. We all utilize the same yard stick, and so when we lay a board that is supposed to be 17 inches long, we all lay a board the same length.

That doesn’t happen in education. Here we lay out results and then everybody shows up with their own measuring stick. Some of those sticks are 35 inches long and some are 42 inches. Some of us even bring two measuring sticks and we utilize them in order to tell the narrative we desire.

On Twitter this past week, I read a statement on TNReady from MNPS board member Mary Pierce that got me thinking:

Initially, I must admit that I started an eye roll, but she’s not wrong. You seldom hear an argument about the results of a measurement using a yard stick. It’s an agreed upon measurement that continually produces consistent measurements. The yard stick measurement in Franklin is the same as the one produced in Nashville. The same cannot be said for state achievement tests. There is never a narrative around a decrease, but there is nearly always one around a growth point.

I’m not a testing guy. Full disclosure: in my opinion, entirely too much weight is given to them, and the results they produce form an incomplete picture that is prone to be used for political fodder. I think they can be useful as mile markers and to guide instruction if results are released in a timely fashion. However, school starts in three weeks. How much instruction are these test results actually guiding?

The other thing that bothers me about these tests, and this probably will get me in trouble, is the way we group students. We group students based on race and economic level. But do those grouping serve as true representations of the students placed in them. Are all black students the same? All Hispanic? I would argue that with some of these students, if you created a Venn diagram, the only similarity would be the color of their skin.

There is rightfully some celebration that minority groups scores grew and therefore the gaps are shrinking. But what does that really mean?

When we say scores for black students increased 1 point, what does that say? By now it’s commonly accepted that scores on standardized are as much a reflection of socio-economic status as they are learning. By placing students in sub-groups based on race we are subconsciously saying that all members of that sub-group have the same socio-economic status. I don’t think anybody would make that argument.

Let’s look at Hispanics for a second, since they as a sub-group showed a large amount of gains on this year’s test results. We all read the news and see the impact that the Trump presidency has had on immigration. That decline changes the socio-economic makeup of this particular sub-group. Is it not possible that some of those gains recorded this year are as much as a result of that shift as they are of actual performance? It has to play some role.

As more members of the individual sub-groups make socio-economic gains, it only falls to reason that students from those families will produce better results. Which again reiterates the importance of robust government policies for pre-K, affordable housing, increased wages, health care, and incarceration rates.

I understand that the creation of these sub-groups was necessitated because of members historically being chronically underserved. I’m just not sure that as America has become more diverse that the focus on the sub-groups doesn’t provide cover for hiding some of those students who are still being underserved and in fact gives us a distorted picture of achievement. At the very least it’s a conversation we should be having.

I suspect that this year’s results will produce an echo in the various silos of opinion across the state. But for an endeavor that requires as many resources and devotion of time as TNReady does, that shouldn’t be acceptable to anyone. We need a measurement tool that isn’t open to individual interpretation but rather one that acts as a consistent form of measurement.

IT’S THE CLIMATE

These days, principal pipelines are all the rage. There is good money in recruiting and training school leaders. And with good reason, as anybody who has ever worked under a bad principal can attest – I hear you Paragon Mills ES and Antioch HS.

There is also a growing awareness of the importance of culture in any organization. The most successful businesses all have healthy cultures. People want to be a part of them. Think about it, how often do you choose Publix over other options just because of the way you feel when you shop there?

Studies are showing that the same holds true in schools. According to study co-author and director of UChicago’s Consortium for School Research Elaine Allensworth:

A lot of times people think school climate is something you work on and take care of so you can get to the real work of teaching and learning, but what we find is learning is inherently social and emotional. If students don’t feel safe and engaged, they aren’t learning.

I concur wholeheartedly. Nobody impacts school climate like a principal. That point can not be overstated. I encourage you to read the whole article from EdWeek.

QUICK HITS

NOAH_Action is facilitating Candidate Meeting for School Board District 6 and 2 this week. Yours truly will be participating on Thursday. This, unfortunately, is one of the few opportunities this election season to see candidates on stage together discussing what matters, the issues. Please take advantage of the opportunity.

Big Picture High School student Emma Miller and Hillwood High School student Latiana Carter spent their summer writing and producing a two-hour play locally. “The Story That Ends” finished its run this past weekend at The Barbershop Theater. Kudos to the duo!

Many of you have either participated in or followed the many discussions this summer in regards to the value of teaching the classics. Maplewood HS teacher, and Project Lit founder Jarred Amato has been a driving force locally in that conversation. But he’s not alone.

According to the Chicago Tribune, four educators — Tricia Ebarvia, Lorena German, Kimberly N. Parker and Julia E. Torres — are aiming to foster a nationwide discussion to challenge existing sentiment about these books, while suggesting the persistence of the traditional canon is crowding out other perspectives.

Their project is called Disrupt Texts, and I urge everyone to check it out. The conversation can get discomforting, but we all need a little discomfort in our life.

Back to school time means back to school sales and ads. This year there seems to be an increased number directed at educators. I guess we are just not pretending anymore, and it’s become an expectation that teachers will utilize their own funds for school supplies. That’s not okay. Teachers, I urge you to resist this subtle entrenchment.

POLL QUESTIONS

I love it when a good poll comes together, and based on the amount of responses generated, this week was a good poll. Thank you for your participation. Let’s review.

Question 1 asked what your mindset was with school set to start soon. Out of 127 responses, 24% of you admitted anxiety was starting to creep in. 22% of you were already working on your classrooms. 9% of you were still deciding if you were going to show up, and only 3% of you were excited. Those results make me a little uneasy and highlight the work that needs to be done in teacher recruitment and retention.

Here are the write-ins:

counting vacancies and wondering about SUB situation with no ESS 1
Hoping to sub 1
Not able to get in the building. 1
going on vacation 1
Thankful I just retired! 1
Thank goodness Austria left Paragon Mills and we have sanity 1
Pissed I was hit 3x. No Cost of living adjustment, No Step, Insurance went up 1
Anxiety never left over the summer & it is getting worse now

Question 2 asked for your take on TNReady results. 130 of you responded to that question, with 31% answering that results were meaningless. 25% indicated they were about what you expected and 18% admitted they had no expectations. Only 1 of you indicated that they exceeded expectations. I appreciate Dr. Felder’s participation.

Here are the write-ins:

Sad. Very sad. All the while Joseph has convinced 1
So disappointed 1
Our instruction was rigorous & test-aligned. Scratching our heads now. WTH?! 1
Classes sizes are enormous. 35 is far too many. 1
Waiting for the spin doctoring. 1
What is high school DOING?!? 1
blah test scores. Just saying… 1
dysfunctional scope and sequence with lack of materials = duh! 1
You mean MAP predictions were wrong? How could that be? 1
It appears the teachers were right,teaching more new stuff doesn’t help scores! 1
Testing company was a flop 1
Growth measure is more important to me. 1
These tests this year are meaningless 1
SAD 😦 1
extremely disappointed…mnps is backsliding 1
Sad to hear that results were no better. 1
Wow. We really suck, don’t we?

The last question asked for your opinion on board member Jill Speering’s public criticism of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph. This was a popular question, and 135 of you responded to it. Out of that 135, 39% of you wished that other board members would see what she sees, and 24% applauded her for speaking up. All told, 86% of responses were of a positive nature. Only 5 people thought she was out of line, and 4 indicated she should turn it down a bit. Hopefully other board members are paying attention.

Before I give you the whole write-in list, I would like to respond to the first comment – “I love Jill… I don’t want TC on the board. You have an axe to grind’!” I just want to point out that if this is true, I’m just keeping with a South Nashville tradition. Current board member JoAnn Brannon ran in response to being dismissed as a principal by then-Director Pedro Garcia. Safe to say she had an ax to grind as well, yet she served with distinction for several years. It’d be an honor to follow in her foot steps.

Here’s the rest of the write-ins:

it’s too 1 sided and may be an outlier 1
very disappointed in the board evaluations of the other 7 1
Dr. J is hurting students of color. Wake up! 1
She’s rightfully frustrated but going to the media isn’t helping views of MNPS 1
Go get him Jill! I praise your truth! 1
It’s hard to know what the truth is—somewhere in that murkey gray area. 1
People are over it. We need to focus on our students. 1
Her evaluation was full of supporting data, unlike any of the positive evals. 1
Where is Will Pinkston? Used to respect his willingness to speak his mind. 1
Where’s Will Pinkston’s bravado now?

And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge.Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. Early voting is underway… so please vote.

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DAMN, BUT I’M TIRED.

I know candidates from the last two school board races are going to scoff at me when I say this aloud, but it’s two days into early voting and I’m already worn out. I know that this year’s race pales in comparison to previous races in both scope and commitment, but still, running a campaign is hard work.

You may think that since you’ve helped out people in the past, you have an understanding of just how all-encompassing it is. I know I used to think that way, but trust me, it is so much more than you could ever imagine. Being a candidate has a way of overtaking everything in your life and pushing it to the background. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like in the past when the intensity started ratcheting up in early May. I don’t know that I could stand up to 3 months of what the last month has been like. So my hat is off to my predecessors.

I’ve come to realize how many really nice people there are out here. I’ve met some real decent people at doors and at polls. My favorite quote comes from a woman who, leaving the polls, stopped me and said, “I voted for you, though I don’t know anything about you. But you talked to me going in and standing in the hot sun has its rewards.”

I’ve also come to realize that we like to talk about fair elections and how everybody has a shot to win a position. That’s another nice myth, but the reality is that the game is rigged for those in the political class. Sure anybody can print fliers, place signs, and knock on doors. The reality is that all of those require a certain knowledge and understanding in order to execute them in an effective manner.

Access to donors is something that is contingent upon who in the political class you have  relationships with. You quickly find out that people aren’t just standing out here handing out money.

Left to your own devices, the simple task creating of a flier, getting it printed at a reasonable cost, and effectively distributed, can eat up the majority of your campaign time. And you still have to create walk lists to effectively knock on doors, design mailers, and coordinate volunteers. It’s all very daunting.

I’m not saying any of this to complain – okay, maybe a little bit – but merely to point out that 8 of the 11 candidates seeking a seat on the school board are participating in their first campaign as a candidate. That’s a big deal, and I’d like to give a little shout out to my fellow rookies. I’d be willing to bet that few of us knew exactly what we were getting into.

NO, IT’S NOT SWEEPS WEEK

School starts in about three weeks and MNPS can’t stay off the news again. Last week, Board Vice Chair Jill Speering appeared in a story that Channel 4 News aired on MNPS Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph’s evaluation by the MNPS school board. Speering and fellow board member Amy Frogge were quite critical of Joseph, and Speering was very frank in her responses to Channel 4’s questions.

While some may have taken exception to Speering’s remarks, I think it’s worth noting that for over a year she tried to deal with issues behind closed doors. Unfortunately, behind closed doors, answers to questions were not quite forthcoming or even adequate. There was little correlation between what she was hearing from teachers and what was being told to her by the administration. It would behoove us to remember that Speering taught for 35 years and she might know a thing or two about best practices.

Some have tried to mute her criticism by claiming that she only began speaking out after Joseph refused to fund Speering’s favored reading program, Reading Recovery. That argument falls apart, though, when you look at the timeline. Joseph, in fact, cut Reading Recovery in an apparent response to Speering’s increased criticism. Speering was critical well before RR was cut.

It’s also worth noting that virtually all school board candidates have been critical of Joseph to some degree. Is the expectation that whomever wins a seat on the board will become muzzled once they are on the board or will the board start to outwardly address the growing criticism by the public? Time will tell.

It looks like Phil Williams over at Channel 5 News has a new series of stories ready to drop come Monday. I must admit that I’m not sure exactly what he plans on covering, but if the promo is any indication, it’ll be on the rampant sexual misconduct occuring throughout the district. The stories that I have personally heard over the last two years are simply appalling, and the district’s response to some of these cases has been seriously lacking. Again, I don’t know what stories Williams is covering in this report, but you might want to tune in on Monday.

QUICK HITS

TNReady results came out this week. Their release was conveniently timed with Dr. Joseph’s vacation to Spain. After all the hoopla over MAP scores over the last several months, expectations were running high. Unfortunately the results did not meet the hype. Per an article in the Tennessean, MNPS students scored as follows:

  • English —  26.7 percent of third through eighth students are on track or higher in the subject, up from 25.4 percent in the 2016-17 school year; 18.1 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 24.4 percent last year.
  • Math — 26.1 percent of third through eighth students scored on track or higher, down from 27.2 last year; 9.5 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 12.1 percent last year.
  • Science — 42.7 percent of third through eighth students were on track or higher, down from 46 percent last year ; 25.6 percent of high school students are on track or higher, down from 35.7 percent last year.
  • U.S. History — And 10.3 percent of the district’s students scored on track or mastered the subject, down from 14.9 percent in the previous year.

I’ll look at scores a lot closer this weekend and offer some thoughts on Monday. My preliminary thoughts are that I don’t think these scores exceed anybody’s expectations.

I’m hearing this week that belated congratulations are due to recently departed Executive Director of Innovative Schools LeTrecia Gloster. Word is that she is expecting a child. I know ladies at central office are disappointed that she left before they had a chance to throw a baby shower. Everybody loves a shower.

Two weeks ago, DGW ran a poll on who y’all thought would win the school board seat in District 6 and the result was a big win for the incumbent. This past weekend there was a forum held in District 6, and the results of the straw poll taken afterwards were a bit different. I’ve got to say, in Aaron McGee and Fran Bush, District 6 has two really good candidates. Take time to talk with them, to get to know them, you’ll be impressed. I’m glad it’s not me having to choose between them.

Remember that time when we told everybody we were really broke, but then we went from 5 LTDS leads to 8. But one quit the day before training started and we asked current LTDS’s to apply for the job even though the LTDS pool was empty and a replacement would have to come from a classroom teacher, therefore leaving a classroom uncovered? Fun times.

Remember that other time when we told board members that we only had 186 teacher openings which was better than last year when we had 266 openings, but we didn’t remind board members that this year we had 500 students fewer than last year? Fun times.

Out in Denver, Superintendent Tom Boasberg is stepping down after nearly 10 years. Per ChalkbeatCO:

Boasberg, 52, and his wife have three children, ages 17, 15, and 14. He said his decision was personal and not driven by the politics of the district. His oldest daughter, Nola, graduated from high school this year – a milestone he said made him stop and think about his commitments to his family, as well as his commitments to the district and to Denver students.

I wonder if they’ve gotten Sito Narcisse’s resume yet?

This is the time of year when my social media feed is filled up with pictures of administrators and teachers engaged in data sharing activities. Not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but few things inspire me less. Just saying.

Wish I had more for ya this week, but that’s all I got. Tomorrow it’s back to the campaign trail.

Hope y’all have an awesome weekend. Don’t forget to answer the poll questions. And if you are eligible to vote in District 2, please get out and vote. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. I’m always looking for more opinions and will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

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

 

 

 

 

 

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TELL ME A STORY…

I’ve often said, “I’m not the smartest man in the room, I’m just fortunate enough to know a lot of really smart people.” To me the greatest benefit to the growth of the Dad Gone Wild blog is the access it provides to the ever-growing network of educators who are regular readers. I’ll write a story and then learn even more on the subject through reader feedback. Friday’s story on Advanced Academics is a prime example.

To get a handle on what’s going on with AA in our schools can be a difficult proposition. There are several different programs – International Baccalaureate, Advanced Placement, Cambridge, AVID, and Dual Enrollment – and even within the same programs, they look different at whatever school your child attends. Policy has shifted, at all levels, over the last couple years further complicating things.

That said, AA is clearly an area that MNPS is making progress in and is deserving of accolades. I was discussing MNPS’s lack of promotion with a parent this weekend and they remarked, “They release the scores and they give accolades. What more do you want?”

That opened up the door to a much larger issue in my opinion. My answer to the question is, I need the narrative. You can’t just tell me the work is important. You have to tell me the why. You can’t just tell me we are making progress. You have to show me how. I need to see real world impact. Give me the narrative.

Dr. Ryan Jackson offers a prime example of what I’m talking about. Jackson was the Assistant Principal at Maplewood HS until two years ago when he went over to Maury County after his Maplewood Principal, Ron Woodard, took the Number 2 job there. Jackson has a deep commitment to STEAM programming and believes in its merits.

Yet he didn’t show up at Mt. Pleasant HS and say we are doing STEAM and you better get on board because I think it’s important. Instead he told the narrative. He demonstrated why he believed in the programming and why it was important. He doesn’t just supply theory and supposition; he uses real world applications and tells the stories of how individuals are impacted. He uses the narrative to build excitement and buy-in.

When Jackson shows up to ask for increased funding, he has tangible reasons for why he needs that money and concrete ways it will benefit students and their families. It’s not just phrases like,”It increases equity” or “it is good for kids.” He tells you why “it is good for kids” and how “it increases equity.”

One of the most important line items in last year’s budget was the paying of fees for individual students’ Advanced Academics tests. This was one of the largest moves towards equity in access that the district had made in years, yet it sat squarely on the chopping block.

Advocates fought to have it funded, and they were successful, but how much were they helped by MNPS? How many council members knew the individual cost of the tests and exactly how families are impacted? How many knew the benefits that other students had already reaped through the successful completion of these programs? How many understood the results from past years or knew the trajectory MNPS was on? Every one of them should have, but I suspect less than a quarter did.

You may argue that the district doesn’t have time for this kind of PR work. I’d argue the opposite; the district does not have the time not to do this work. You can throw all the key performance indicators in the world up on a projection screen at a board meeting and, sans a narrative, it won’t mean a thing. You’ve got to tell the story and make it compelling.

You can be mad at Metro Council and the mayor for not fully funding schools all you want, but you if can’t tell them the why, then you can’t be surprised if they don’t find the how. School Board member Will Pinkston lectured at the last board meeting on the importance of 7 words, “We are a chronically underfunded school system.” I would argue that we only need to focus on one word: “Why?”

Here’s one of the Advanced Academics stories that I think you’ll find illuminating. There is an unspoken myth about the kind of student that enters the AA programs. The truth is, few students enter at the national norm of “readiness” for the course work, as the knowledge needed for TNReady does not necessarily translate to AP. Some have seldom done regular homework before or read an entire book or written a paper longer than a page and a half (though some have). Yet, many of them are successful at learning college material. Even for those who do not pass the AP Exam, surveys a year later show that they earned A’s in college their freshman year.

On Friday, I talked about kids earning diplomas through the International Baccalaureate program. What that means can be a little confusing. Earning a diploma is a very daunting task and without understanding the process, it’s equally difficult to evaluate the success of the program. As one MNPS educator explained to me:

IB Diplomas are what the district often shines a light upon, but they are a poor measure of IB success. The IB Diploma just means that a student earned enough points across a range of courses from IB assignments/exams; however, IB students also earn certificates for each course. Each IB course is graded by the IBO on a scale of 1-7. A score of 4 typically earns college credit for the course. The IB diploma is earned when a student achieves 24 cumulative points across six courses, but it gives little extra benefit versus doing well in individual courses. As such, a student could do well in IB History and IB Math but struggle some in IB English and not get the IB Diploma. The student would still earn college certificates for History & Math but not earn the whole diploma. I would argue that this was still a successful student and that IB was a cumulative benefit.

It’s also important to remember that some students take individual classes, but not the whole IB program. Their goal is to earn 1-2 classes of college credit; diploma percentages would not capture any benefit to them.

I mentioned that kids who take the advanced classes risk taking a hit to their GPA. For clarification, the students keep their GPA boost if they stay in the course, regardless of the exam. They do lose two perks: they lose their +5 point incentive points added to their third quarter and fourth quarter grade, and they lose their automatic exemption for the teacher’s final exam (for which the AP exam replaces). Important considerations.

The exams being paid for (IB students still pay a registration fee of $122 that MNPS does not cover) is one of the most transformative things that MNPS has done and has changed classrooms in a positive manner. Again, in the words of an MNPS educator:

With AP exams paid for, my AP enrollment was the largest in years as fewer students tried to transfer out. I went from 22 in the class to 31 students, and I went from 12 test-takers in 2018 to 29 this year. The students had a greater sense of focus as well, despite the greater participation, our average score did not drop.

As other kids see kids that look like them and live like them, thrive in the advanced academic programs, it’s only a natural progression that they will want to join in. The programs can only get bigger and more successful. But that can only happen if we do our part, if we tell the narrative. We have to stop focusing on the what – more resources – and begin focusing on the why – the impact on the classroom and the individual students.

DID I NOT MENTION THAT?

Here’s another tale about the power of the Dad Gone Wild network. On Friday, I wrote about MNPS school board member Amy Frogge pulling the extension of the TNTP contract from the consent agenda at the last school board meeting. Her objection was more to the vendor than to the individual contract. In defending the extension, it was argued that this contract was for PD only, and that nobody was using it. The implication being that TNTP was not being utilized in the district. An implication that many readers found puzzling.

Several of you wrote to me that TNTP was in fact being utilized by Jere Baxter MS and Joelton MS. I was further informed that all priority schools were utilizing TNTP and that new priority school head Lisa Coons is a big proponent of TNTP. Here’s where the soup gets a little thicker: TNTP is a proponent of Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA). CKLA is being pushed by district leadership, despite a lack of buy-in from principals. There are those who believe, not without merit, that Reading Recovery was canceled in part to make room for CKLA.

To be fair, there are those that believe in CKLA. I take no issue with the pushing of a curriculum as long as it’s research backed. My questions would be, why are we not having a more transparent conversation around its implementation? It would have taken but a minute to clarify that schools are utilizing the services of TNTP through other contracts. I would also wonder aloud why we are utilizing one curriculum for priority schools and not using the same curriculum in our not-as-high needs schools.

This whole exchange just drives home the point to me why reports from the teaching and learning committee need to be included in board meetings. If those reports were given regularly, then all of us would have a better understanding of what is actually happening in the classroom and the impact board decisions are having in the classroom. Which is supposed to be the reason why we are all here, right?

NEED A JOB?

According to the Tennessean, MNPS has 189 vacancies that need filling. Presenting at last week’s board meeting, Sharon Pertiller, the Human Resources talent strategy director for MNPS, updated the board on the district’s hiring status. Pertiller indicated that the hiring position this year was improved over last year, when the district needed to fill 266 vacancies.

Let’s keep a few things in mind, though. Briefly mentioned at the bottom of the article is the information that MNPS displaced 82 teachers. What nobody is talking about are the Glenn/Caldwell teachers who were displaced when the two schools were merged. So we created a pool of teachers in need of jobs and we used that pool to fill openings. Not exactly a result of improved recruiting.

In order to actually evaluate the success of recruiting efforts, we’d have to know the actual number of certificated positions at this time last year and this year. The article says MNPS has about 6,400 teachers and administrators. If last year we had 6700 and this year we had 6400, then 189 versus 266 does not indicate progress. To be fair, I doubt the swing is that much, but with 162 schools in the district, if each school lost 2 positions… it could be.

The question of the number of positions becomes more important in lieu of a recent email from central office to principals that would seem to indicate a hiring freeze. Though to be fair, despite repeated readings, I can’t decipher the intent of the email. Combine this email with a bullet point in Pertiller’s Power Point presentation to the board that stated, “Adjust staffing, e.g. combining classrooms and utilizing subs to support the teacher of record”, and you’ve got some red flags.

QUICK HITS

Man, there ain’t no crazy like Prince George’s County crazy. In today’s episode, the PGCPS school board appointed Monica Goldson as acting CEO of schools. News that wasn’t exactly welcomed by the community.

The Metro Health and Educational Facilities board approved on Thursday $13.6 million in tax exempt bonds for KIPP Academy to build a new elementary school in Antioch. I certainly am not looking to restart the charter war, but this is a bit of a problem. KIPP runs 5 schools already and this one’s application was rejected by the district. They took advantage of a new law that allows for a school that’s been rejected by the local LEA to apply to the state. The state approved the application.

It’s my opinion that if the state approves the application, the state should foot the bill. To circumvent the local board and then present them with the tab shouldn’t be an option.

Hard to believe, but freshmen orientations have already started for MNPS students. Here’s the schedule for the 2018-2019 school year. Some schools will offer transportation for students, so please check with your child’s school.

POLL RESULTS

Let’s take a quick look at last week’s poll questions.

The first question asked your opinion on the amount of questioning some board members have been doing as of late. 90% of you answered in a manner that indicated you appreciate the questions and would welcome more. Four of you thought the board needs to ease up and stay in their lane. Here are the write-in answers:

The only 2 doing their duty are Speering and Frogge. 1
MNPS Board Job: Don’t be a shill. Looking at you, CBuggs et al #itstheanswers 1
How has the ?ing made the school system better 1
The blind defense of Dr J is hurting kids 1
Did Maritza have to pay back her stipend?!? 1
Only Frogge and Speering are doing their job 1
Why are the only two asking questions always getting eye rolls and voted down wh 1
We need to change the law and elect a teacher to the BOE 1
Why don’t most board members really seem to care at all about employees?

Question two asked those of you who’d been involved with MNPS’s advanced academic programs to give feedback on your experience. The majority indicated that it was a favorable experience but acknowledged that improvements could be made. Here are the write-in votes:

Better than reg classes, but like everything else, sabotaged by central office 1
Further segregates kids within a school. Look at stats.

The last question asked if you had ever given a cash donation in a school board race. The majority of you had not, and those that had, only a handful of times. You can rectify that, you know. All you have to do is go to tcforschools.com. Just saying. Here are the write-in votes:

any day to get a new board 1
Not often enough; will participate more in future. 1
Only for Weber, Frogge and Speering

And that’s a wrap. Hope y’all have an awesome week. If you need to contact me, you can do so at Norinrad10@yahoo.com. Feedback is always welcome and I will try to promote as many of the events that you send me as possible, but I do apologize in advance if I fall short and don’t get them all out there.

I have started using Patreon as a funding source. If you think what I do has monetary value, you can go there and make a donation/pledge.Just because Andy Spears is also on Patreon doesn’t mean you can’t support us both. Trust me, I know I ain’t going to get rich, but at the end of the day I’m just a Dad trying to get by. Check out the Dad Gone Wild Facebook page as well. And if you are so inclined, check out my new campaign web page and sign up to help if you can. Early voting starts in just a couple of weeks.