What Does the Fox Say?

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Vamers-Artistry-What-Does-The-Fox-Say-The-Animated-Guide-BannerEarlier in the week, I wrote a post about the past actions of the two candidates in the upcoming runoff election for the mayor of Nashville. Ok, well, primarily one of the candidates. The Tennessean, Nashville’s local rag, decided to write a bit of a compare and contrast piece for themselves. But there are several points in the Tennessean piece that deserve further discussion.

First of all, I’d like some clarification on David Fox’s statement that nothing he has seen indicates Megan Barry is “prepared to engage as muscularly” as the mayor should to keep our public education system from falling apart. What does that mean? I went and looked up the word “muscularly” to get a little more edification. According to the free dictionary, it means “having or suggesting great forcefulness, especially at the expense of subtlety” (e.g., muscular reasoning that does not bother with the finer points). Hmmmmm…. seems to me that public education is one of those areas where the devil is in the details, so it might require a little delicacy. Based on this statement, Mr. Fox thinks the mayor just needs to be a bulldozer.

I dated a girl for a while whose father’s solution to every repair project was “bring me the hammer.” Needless to say, not a lot of repairs got done around the house. Unfortunately, a tool chest needs a screwdriver and a wrench and a ratchet. Likewise, with something as vast as public education, sometimes a great deal of subtlety – and more tools than just a hammer – is need to bring the different stakeholders together. You know, more brain than brawn.

Many of my female friends contend that Fox is sending a subtle message to his people with this messaging. Letting them know that a woman might not be up to the hard job of keeping a school system together. Ok, I don’t know about that. Since I’m not one of his people, I wouldn’t get the message, but it is awful strange language and I am concerned about his perceived need for the mayor to keep the system from falling apart. This is a head scratcher because I thought there was an elected school board for that. Is he advocating for the mayor to take over the board?

Well, keep on scratching your head because things don’t get any clearer. When David Fox was on the Nashville school board, he advocated for then-Governor Bredesen to grant mayoral control over the school district. Now that he’s running for mayor, he says, “I’m running for mayor with the full expectation that we will always have an elected school board in Nashville.” Based on this statement it sounds like the mayor doesn’t have to keep things from falling apart because there are people charged with that task. So, where is he going to apply this muscle of his ? If I didn’t know better I’d say he’s “muscularly” trying to have his cake and eat it too when it comes to our schools. He wants to dictate to them but not be accountable for them.

The next thing that puzzles me is this: Megan Barry has long been a supporter of universal pre-K. She’s not alone in this support, as the majority of educational experts see its value. We call that a research-backed policy position. Fox feels that “we don’t have an unlimited amount of money. So, what I would like to do is, let’s fix the problem. Let’s don’t take all these kids who have privately-funded pre-K and put them into a government system. Let’s take all the resources that we can muster for pre-K and put it to the benefit of children whose families cannot afford it.” My question is who determines who can afford what? Why segregate kids out at an early age between those who get private pre-k and those who get public pre-k? Lack of funding is a poor excuse for this short-sided policy.

Especially in light of the fact that when it comes to the subject of charter schools, which research has shown have mixed results, and a study commissioned by MNPS showed that charter schools are an expensive proposition for the district, Fox’s take is this: “I don’t have any vision for how many charter schools we need. I don’t have a vision that we need to charterize everything. It doesn’t matter to me who runs the school. They just have to be successful.” Of course, he never defines what successful means. Nor does he seem concerned about the fiscal cost. So, it’s no money for universal pre-K, unlimited money for charter schools. Have I mentioned hedge fund managers love charter schools?

Also, under Fox there would be no money for community schools. Despite having a district where over 70% of children qualify for free and reduced lunch and that community schools are successful in combating the challenges that urban schools face, Fox’s response is this: “So after adding more than $1 billion to Metro’s debt and leaving the taxpayers holding the bag over her last eight years on the Metro Council … Now, she is coming up with even more ways to spend our money that have little to do with actual learning.” That’s called a non-research-backed position. We need to be finding a way to increase the number of community schools instead of clinging to the status quo of hit and miss charter schools.

The last area I want to address is Fox’s recent comments about the outsourcing of custodians and groundskeepers that occurred in 2010 when he was on the school board. Fox puts it down as a kids’ needs versus adult needs thing. Apparently, according to Fox, it’s Barry who “doesn’t have in my view a really firm understanding of why schools aren’t successful.” but I think he’s got it backwards.  He apparently does not grasp that schools are not a strict teacher-to-student equation. Equally important are administrators, nurses, guidance counselors, administrative workers, bus drivers, and yes…. custodians and groundskeepers.

When those jobs were outsourced, not only did our schools lose some dedicated people, but also a great deal of institutional knowledge. If you own an older home, then you know that there are a lot of hidden tricks to keeping all aspects of it fully functioning. Over time, we homeowners learn those tricks, and they allow us to maintain comfort and functionality without having to undertake costly repairs. You cannot put a price tag on institutional knowledge. Those custodians maintained an environment that allowed children to learn, and I’m pretty confident that most were as dedicated to our children as our teachers are. That’s having a broad enough vision to put kids first and recognizing all the components that go into learning.

When I wrote my last piece, I received some complaints that I painted Fox in an unfair light. I would contend that his own words do a better job of that than I ever could. Megan Barry is not the perfect candidate (if she writes another letter to Jeremy Kane trying to solicit his 10 voters, I may try and get Dr. Mike Looney to run for mayor), but she is clearly the better choice for mayor. She doesn’t speak in code and will help ensure that we have a public education system that supports all of our children. We don’t need to look at the past for evidence for that; just listen to what’s being said today. Please I urge everyone to take this to heart and get out and vote so that Barry is the next mayor and not Fox, because that would be disastrous for the future of our public schools.

On another note – and one that doesn’t fit here, but it’s my blog so I can say what I want – kudos to the incredible work being done at Maplewood High School by Twjuana Williams and her students. It was announced today that as part of their school work, Maplewood students will be running a Firestone Complete Auto Care Center. That’s the kind of innovation being done in our public schools.

The other thing I really admire about this story is that nowhere is the dynamic leadership of Executive Principal Ron Woodard or Assistant Principal Ryan Jackson mentioned. The focus is solely on the students and Ms. Williams. Real leadership is the ability to allow your teammates to take the spotlight while you remain in a support position. Maplewood and its community should be proud.

 

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Congratulations for MNPS are in Order

11796412_10207559130401199_6536072867039905966_nLast week, Metro Nashville Public Schools MNPS) were left at the altar by their choice for Director of Schools, but today’s news should help ease that sting. Test scores were released for the district this morning, and they show that when Mayoral candidate Bill Freeman says that the narrative of Nashville schools struggling is overblown, he is correct. The Tennessean may not be impressed, but todays results are among the best ever for MNPS.

These are results that should be pasted on the front page of the paper instead of stories about social media spats. Our public school system is one that we can be proud of. It is not one in need of a “reset” but rather one that needs a continued firm hand on the wheel as we continue to make an upward trajectory. Some will try to spin a false tale of our schools being in crisis and failing to meet the needs of our children, but the truth is that we are systematically attacking our challenges and our children are working hard; proving that when the time comes, they’ll be ready to lead and maintain Nashville’s status as an “it” city. They are doing things the Nashville Way.

Here are results for grades 3-8. They show math jumping from 44.6 percent proficient/advanced to 47.4. Science jumped to 49.1 percent. Reading did dip slightly, as it did for the whole state.

Taking a look at grades 9-12 End of Course (EOC) exam scores and this becomes even more impressive. In English I (9th grade), students scoring proficient/advanced increased to 63.7 percent and English II (10th Grade) increased to 56.3. English III (11th grade) soared to 29.8. These are incredible gains.

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Math is the same story, but with even greater gains.

Out of 11 categories, MNPS hit the mark in 10. That’s pretty damn impressive. Especially considering all the turmoil that we’ve seen this year.

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I think we can draw several conclusions from these results. First and foremost, we have an incredible group of teachers and administrators who work with and are dedicated to the children of Nashville. They don’t get nearly enough appreciation. We need to remember that every time we say or hear things like, “Our school system is in crises,” or “We are plagued with failing schools.” That just reinforces a false narrative that is not borne out by the data, and therefore disparages the hard work, dedication, and sacrifice of these professionals. We owe them a debt of gratitude and support, not unfounded criticism. Hat’s off to each and everyone of you.

Second of all, why was MNPS Chief Academic Officer Dr. Jay Steele not considered a finalist for Director of Schools again?? African American leaders are currently calling for the school board to reconsider an offer to Dr. Angela Huff for the position of director of schools, yet not a word about Dr. Steele. Like him or not, and there are plenty that don’t, you can not dispute these results. There will be an attempt to add these to Dr. Register’s legacy, but anybody who’s watched Dr. Register up close this last year knows that his hand was rather loose on the wheel this year. The majority of his time was spent battling crisis’s of his own making.

Dr. Steele joined MNPS in 2010 in the position of associate superintendent for high schools and since then, test scores have seen a steady increase. His results were strong enough to attract the attention of the White House and led to a visit by President Obama. This year, he became more involved in middle schools, and once again, the scores have gone up. We say we value data but then we chose to ignore it when it tells us a story we don’t like.

Dr. Huff by all accounts, is a wonderful talented woman, but she’s never been a director, nor has she ever been directly in charge of instruction for a district like Nashville’s. Yet, for some reason her potential is valued more then the body of work Dr. Steele has helped facilitate.  If we are not careful, he may be facilitating that growth for someone else. It’s no small feat that almost 19,000 more students are scoring advanced or proficient today than they were in 2010. Calling attention to these results should not be seen as a slight of Dr. Huff but rather an indictment of the search firm Hazard, Attea, and Young and the job they did – or failed to do.

I talked to a gentleman recently who told me about being at a conference with a group of our principals. His assessment was, “You all got a bunch of rock stars.” Yes, we do. Ask yourself though, who do you think recruited them, led them, and is supported by them? Yet we are willing to give credibility to a search firm that said Dr. Steele was not prepared to lead. Take the personality out of the equation and look at the results. They speak for themselves. This should not be seen as a slight of Dr. Huff but rather an indictment of the search firm Hazard, Attea, and Young and Associates and the job they did or failed to do.

Thirdly, I hope State Education Superintendent Candice McQueen takes notice of these numbers and lets the Achievement School District know that we don’t need their help. We have challenges and our schools definitely have room for improvement, but as these score continue to show, we know how to make those improvements and we are making them. Rumors continue to swirl that they have targeted two more Nashville schools. Those actions need to stop and Neeley’s Bend needs to be returned to MNPS. The ASD’s time would be better spent planning Chris Barbic’s retirement party.

Bill Freeman is absolutely right when he says Metro Schools need a cheerleader. It’s obviously not going to be the Tennessean. The work our children are doing is going to ensure a brighter future for all of us. The people guiding them are doing so in an exemplary manner. These results need to be celebrated for what they are: a testimony to the hard work and dedication of Nashville’s students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members. Let’s all get together and show how proud we are of Metro Nashville Public Schools success.

Test scores are not a complete indication of a schools quality and lord knows, these results come with plenty of questions. However, they are what most people use for a measurement and they have been sanctioned by the state. To not celebrate them would rob us of a day to hug our children and say “job well done”. To not celebrate would deprive us of a day to slap a high five to teacher or administrator. That’s makes today a day of celebration.

 

The Runaway Bride Hits Nashville

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flaming_bag_of_poop_answer_7_xlargeWhen I was a kid, we had a game we liked to play. You’d take a brown paper lunch bag, fill it with dog poop, place it on some unsuspecting person’s porch, light it on fire, ring the doorbell, and then run. The unsuspecting person would answer the door, see the flaming bag, and quickly move to stamp it out. You can guess the rest. Essentially, that’s the game Dr. Mike Looney played with Nashville last week.

Over the last several months, the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System (MNPS) has engaged in a search for a new director of schools. It’s been an extremely difficult search process and one fraught with a plethora of challenges. The slate of candidates brought forth by the search firm Hazard, Young, and Attea left many unimpressed. School board chair Sharon Gentry played personal politics by utilizing an ethics complaint to overturn a vote on an interim director while never actually addressing the ethics complaint and also ignoring two other ethics complaints. Through some kind of miracle, though, once the process moved on to actual interviews, a path forward started to emerge.

First of all, Dr. Angela Huff, the candidate from Cobb County, Georgia, proved to be much more impressive than she looked on paper. However, Dr. Looney, the current superintendent of Williamson County Schools, proceeded to demonstrate why the people of Williamson County love him. This is where the paper bag got lit up.

In these interviews and through personal interviews with individual board members and community members, Dr. Looney began to construct a grand vision of what MNPS could look like under his leadership. It was a vision that could unite all elements within a community that often found itself at odds. So much so that he was able to generate a vote of 8-1 from the school board to offer him the position. The lone holdout being Tyese Hunter.

Hunter supported Dr. Huff and had concerns that another finalist, Dr. Covington, had been disqualified, in her opinion, due to internet rumors. She also felt we weren’t holding Dr. Looney to the same level of scrutiny. It’s a position that I disagree with, as the evidence on Dr. Covington was pretty overwhelming, and the charge against Dr. Looney was one that had been proven false, but in hindsight, perhaps we should have paid it more heed. However, the reviews of Dr. Looney were so glowing, the feedback so positive, and the desire for optimism so strong, that people started to buy the hype.

That’s when the bag got stomped on. Looney elected to stay in Williamson County despite having signed a letter of intent to come to MNPS, and with that, debris started to fly. The fallout was instantaneous. In declining the MNPS job and selecting the Williamson County job, Looney cited reasons that ran directly counter to things he said to me just two days earlier over lunch. It’s extremely disheartening because this world is so devoid of people with true integrity, and I left that lunch feeling like I’d met one. Today, however, I am unsure. I look forward to hearing a more detailed explanation from Dr. Looney about his decision.

It’s important to understand that Dr. Looney was not pursued by MNPS. In fact, several school board members tried to dissuade him from applying. Once he became a finalist many thought this was all a ploy to get more money from Williamson County and neutralize his political enemies, a charge a vehemently denied . Watching him navigate the interview process, though, was a textbook case on how to win over votes. It was clear that he had done his homework, and he managed to turn that into talking points that appealed to each board member. It was impressive and it was successful.

It’s hard to reconcile that kind of calculation with a sudden change of heart due to an outpouring of emotion from Williamson County. After all, the ones begging him to stay were the ones who had always begged him to stay. Nobody really changed their mind because of this charade. His supporters just got a louder voice. It’ll be interesting to see in the coming year if those detractors don’t regain their volume.

In declining the job, Dr. Looney talked about it being a family decision and the need to do right by his family. This argument is indicative of a larger problem in public education. It’s a position that says my family and my child trump all else. If my child’s individual needs are being met, then all is good. Dr. Looney sold Nashville on the belief that he had a set of skills that could, in his words, move the needle for all our students. He talked of the potential of creating a public education system that could be a national model. One that showed how all types of schools – traditional, charter, and magnet – could interact together. In the end, though, it’s his family and his children’s needs that he chose to address, leaving the others to look for hope elsewhere.

Can he be faulted for that? That’s not my judgment to make. All I can do is compare it to my personal situation. Both of my children are in a high poverty school. The instruction is excellent, but the inequalities children in these schools face have been mind numbing. Often I consider pulling them out and putting them in a school that provides every opportunity. We have the means to do so. The problem is, that won’t end the inequality. True, my children would be in a better situation, but those other children would still be under served. My children would also suffer from the lack of exposure to children who are different from them. And that’s why I stay and advocate. Because my children won’t live in a world by themselves, and it’s important that they learn early on that all people are important, not just us.

The burning bag is going to spray everywhere for a while. It’s already hit the school board. The Tennessean didn’t even wait a day to jump in with an editorial blaming the school board for the rejection. Choosing instead to try and push the paper’s agenda instead of taking a moment to acknowledge the hard work of the board, whose members sacrificed personal time away from their families to make the process as transparent as possible to the general public. The newspaper chose to once again take a shot at the board’s initial vote to instill chief academic officer Jay Steele over current interim director Chris Henson, claiming that Gentry’s actions were justified. But I think there may be some rethinking of that position once test scores are released this week. Nowhere did the paper acknowledge that despite all the turmoil, the board had come together and made the right choice.

Instead they chose to chide the board by saying they need to “grow up” and leave behind their petty arguments. It’s insulting to label legitimate discourse as “petty.” I don’t understand why people fail to grasp the concept that democracy consists of people with disparate views coming together and finding a common solution. Nowhere is it written that we can’t disagree in getting to the solution. I helped to elect my school board representative to defend the right of public education for our communities children, not to make new friends.

We claim to want to teach children critical thinking skills, but chastise the board when they model those very skills. As observed by Dr. Looney, the topics of our board are focused around children and the delivery system of their education. He advised that Williamson County’s board could learn from this. The Tennessean editorial chose to ignore this observation and went further by making the declaration that our board wasn’t ready for a director like Dr. Looney, but he was a good fit for Williamson County.

The African-American community is pushing for an offer to be made to the runner-up candidate, Dr. Angela Huff. That would be a mistake. There was a reason she was not the first choice, and we need to remember history and not rush off to instantly hire someone. The last time we did that, we paid dearly for it and almost ended up with a state takeover of Nashville’s public schools. Their voices need to be heard and their concerns recognized, but the process needs to be restarted entirely. A new search firm needs to be hired. Dr. Huff should be encouraged to resubmit her application. If she truly is the best candidate, she will rise to the top again.

Dr. Looney’s decision to stay in Williamson County also robs the Nashville community of the ability to buy-in to a new director 100 percent. He very calculatingly created an air of excitement in MNPS. People who had given up on public education were suddenly ready to give MNPS a second look. But that won’t happen again. We’ll get a great director, but he or she is going to be greeted with a little skepticism, because after all, we got dressed up once already and watched the carriage drive away without us. We won’t be so trusting a second time.

During the courtship of Dr. Looney, a comment was made to me that the problem with Williamson County was their sense of entitlement to the things they wanted. This episode reinforced that. If Dr. Looney had left, Williamson County Schools would have been just fine. They have the demographics and the resources to always provide a world-class education system. A large urban district doesn’t have that luxury. Once again, this is an example of the rich getting richer. As a child of poverty, how does Dr. Looney rectify that with his life experiences? With MNPS Dr. Looney would have had a chance to really make a name for himself, change the trajectory of children’s lives, and demonstrate true transformational leadership on the national stage. I doubt he will ever have that opportunity again.

Time will tell where else the splatter goes. Ultimately, though, it’s the children of MNPS who will suffer. This will be a year spent in a holding pattern. Which is a shame because children don’t get another senior year in high school or another 4th grade year. They get one shot at that experience, and we as adults, by failing to keep that in mind, have made this coming year more difficult from the start. Fortunately, we are blessed to have some of the best teachers and administrators in the country to lean on. I have complete faith that they will guide our children through all the turmoil to a place of not just maintaining, but excelling. We need to make sure that we don’t take them for granted either. We need to do everything we can to support them.

I left my lunch with Dr. Looney last week extremely impressed. I thought to myself, here is a man so comfortable with himself that he is open to discuss anything. No subject is off limits because he knows his brand and he lives his brand. Well, this week that brand took a hit. It’ll be interesting to see this year how things play out and if Dr. Looney truly neutralized his detractors or if they are going use this drama as fuel to come back harder then ever.

The strange thing is, that even after all of this heartbreak, I still want to believe. I still want to have faith in the things he said. As cynical as I can be, I truly want to believe that all of this is about children and communities. We need people of integrity. We don’t need more heroes with clay feet. Time will tell whether this was a brilliant ploy or a dumpster fire. Hopefully Dr. Looney will do the children of Williamson County a better service than he’s done the children of Davidson County. Right now though we’ve got some heroes in Nashville that need our help. So lets rolls up our sleeves and bring on the new school year. We have some work to do.

What do you hope to accomplish?

That was the question that was posed to me on Twitter recently by someone who had just read my latest missive on how dysfunctional the Metro Nashville Public School Board has become. It’s a fair question and one that I frequently ask myself. Since 1983, when “A Nation At Risk” was first published, private interests, under the banner of “reform,” have been trying to transform our public school system from one that serves all students to one that divides and sends one group of children down one track and others down another. Using tools like increased reliance on standardized testing, charter schools, decreased funding, and emphasis on alternative teacher licensing, these “reformers” have worked hard to show us that our schools are in a crisis and that only a switch to private management can save them.

Unfortunately, by co-opting language and making the argument dependent on only that which can be measured, the privatization forces have been very successful. For example, here in Nashville, we’ve all seen the headlines for LEAD Academies and how the whole senior class graduated and is now heading to college.  These accolades are accepted at face value. The founder of LEAD Public Schools, Jeremy Kane, who is also currently running for mayor of Nashville, is lauded for his education acumen, but nobody mentions that the size of the LEAD’s graduating class is tiny compared to the numbers that graduate from our traditional schools. Nobody mentions either that the graduating class was three times as large in 10th grade, but what happened to those other kids when it was graduation time? We also never question whether they are simply churning out children who will excel at passing tests or whether they are producing good stewards who will have the ability to solve the variety of challenges the next generation will face.

The truth is public schools are just as much about society as they are about the individual child. We used to know that. Brown v. Board of Education reiterated it. Our schools were created to serve all children and provide equal opportunities for learning to each child. That ruling recognized that our children were the future of our society, and just like barriers were coming down in society, schools were the vehicle to make sure they stayed down. Some people didn’t accept that and have been developing new ways to keep us separate since then. To me that is unacceptable.

New Orleans was really the genesis of the latest thrust of privatization. Hurricane Katrina provided the perfect excuse to make sweeping changes to the school system at an accelerated pace. Teachers were fired and replaced with young Teach for America corps members. Schools were converted wholesale to charter schools, each with an independent school board. Lost was the voice of the citizen at the local level. Despite what reformers in New Orleans try to tell you, the sweeping changes did not bring improvement; in fact, they brought quite the opposite. But to the reformer, the tragedy of Katrina did prove a way to get the public out of public education.

Tennessee and Michigan followed close on the heels of Louisiana, both creating Achievement School Districts designed to appear as a means to improve low performing schools. But in reality, they are means to further separate the public from public education. Again, neither of these entities have proven to be successful at anything other than growing the number of charter schools and spending taxpayer money. Who are you going to complain to, though, as neither answers to a publicly elected board? I believe that the purpose of these districts was never about results.

Much in the way one builds speculative restaurants, not to turn a profit but to entice others to invest in the chain, these districts were created to get others to buy into the concept. See, when you build a spec restaurant, your profit doesn’t come from the number of burgers you sell, but rather the number of franchises you sell. Despite not showing gains in educating children in these achievement school districts, the privatization forces are looking good with potential franchises in the works in Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Nevada. Business is booming, I’d say.

Our public schools are not under attack on only one front though. As evidenced by actions in Douglas County, Colorado, privatizers have mastered a whole new plan of attack. One that involves subverting the school board, hiring a sympathetic director of schools, and beginning the break up. It’s easy to close a school and turn it over to a charter operator if you are the superintendent backed by a majority of the school board. If you live in Nashville or just south in Williamson County and none of this sounds familiar, then you are just not paying attention. We can not just stand by and do nothing while a cornerstone of our democracy is converted to a private enterprise that only answers to shareholders and not community members.

Which brings me back full circle to the dysfunction of the Metro Nashville Public School Board. After recently appointing the current second-in-command, Dr. Jay Steele, to the position of interim director of schools, board chair Dr. Sharon Gentry used a ethics complaint to call an emergency meeting to rescind that appointment and appoint her selection. She did this despite one board member, Anna Shepherd, notifying her that she would be unable to attend due to pre-scheduled surgery and requesting a delay of the vote for one week. At the emergency meeting, two board members, Amy Frogge and Jill Speering, also made impassioned pleas to delay the meeting one week. Dr. Gentry and other board members denied this request and proceeded with the vote that turned out as predicted with Gentry’s choice in place as interim director. Now instead of one ethics complaint there are three. This is a huge deal.

It was argued after the emergency meeting that even with Ms. Shepherd’s vote, nothing would have changed with the outcome. How is that known? Because by denying her voting privileges, and by proxy that of her district and all the people she represents, the right to argue the merits of her choice was also denied. How is it known that she wouldn’t have brought some new evidence forward that would have swayed another board member to change his or her vote? Maybe she would have raised a concern that others hadn’t considered, and they would have changed their votes. We don’t know, because other board members failed to show her professional courtesy by allowing a delay to take place and allowing her district’s voice to be heard. Was it just callousness or a hidden agenda? It’s impossible to know, but the door has been opened to speculation. As mayoral candidate Bill Freeman said in a recent letter, “the events of June 30 and the slate of candidates announced today demonstrate that the board has more work to do in an effort to ensure that indeed a clean and fair search process is conducted.” Unless corrected these actions will forever remain suspect.

Now we are on to the next stage of the selection process for a new director of schools with the four names having been announced as finalists. We might be expected to consider these two stages as separate enterprises but we would be remiss in doing so. It is all part of one process that is now mired in speculation and distrust. I would argue that the fight against Dr. Steele was waged because his appointment gave the board leverage to reject the presented pool of candidates and demand that the search committee do a better job. But with Dr. Gentry’s selection for interim in place, Chris Henson, the argument can now be made that he is a financial guy (he’s currently the district’s CFO) and that we need to get someone more permanent in place now. In fact if you watch the video of the revealing of the finalists, she attempts to get board members to agree to hiring one of the four before the names have even been released.

You can not corrupt a portion of a process without corrupting the whole process. In looking over the list of candidates, I can’t believe that anyone truly believes these are the best candidates available in the whole country. The selection firm has said that two other candidates withdrew their names because of the taint of controversy surrounding this appointment. This further proves my point: the corruption of a portion of the process corrupts the whole process. Would the taint of controversy be there if Dr. Gentry and her allies hadn’t tried to manipulate the process by calling an emergency meeting based on a single ethics complaint that never had the opportunity to be vetted? What about if Dr. Gentry had done her prescribed job and appointed an ethics committee and that committee held an emergency meeting to vet the complaint before what appeared to be a legitimate vote was rescinded? What if HYA, the search firm now in question, focused on their job and overcoming the challenges presented and less on shaping the search to their agenda?

We will never know what those two applicant’s resumes looked like because the process has been corrupted. People have said we need to move past Jay Steele and look at what our options are. I disagree. Dr. Steele serves as a known entity therefore providing a comparable to the selected finalists. I’ll be honest, I’m not convinced that he does not hold his own with this group. His body of work surpasses at least half this group and is comparable to the others without the taint of corruption. However, this isn’t about Jay Steele.

It’s about a series of actions that are either incompetent or corrupt.  On the heels of reversing a vote by the board, ignoring the pleas of a fellow board member to be allowed to participate in the process and putting in place a interim director that is no threat to become permanent, Dr. Gentry is now defending a list of finalists that include a man who’s references apparently went unchecked by HYA. Anyone who looks at the history of Hazard, Young, and Attea, shouldn’t be surprised but like MNEA, should demand a refund. During the unveiling of candidates Attea spent about 25 minutes lecturing the board on how to conduct an interview and in particular board member Pinkston on the board’s ability to fire HYA. I strongly suggest we consider his advice. So back to what I hope to accomplish.

Board member Anna Shepherd has repeatedly stated that we have to get this right. If we don’t we run the risk of trying to fix something that is entrenched, always a difficult task. I hope to see us hire a director of schools who will be a great leader and steward to our school system for many years. One who was hired through a transparent and equitable hiring process. One that is put in place not because of either someone’s machinations or because they were the best of a sub-par lot. Nashville really is a unique place. We are blessed with a diverse population unequaled in the country. The last few years have seen unparallelled growth and the future is only getting brighter. We are recognized universally as an “it” city. Well, “it” cities don’t fall prey and they certainly do not settle.