A Lesson in Communication

Teacher and blogger Mary Holden got to teach a lesson in communication in real time yesterday as MNPS dealt with the predicted bad weather and an early dismissal.

Here’s a bit from her take on the situation:

Communication has long been an issue for MNPS. Perhaps they don’t have the right people in charge? I mean, the district’s public information officer – the public face of the district – was recently on the news discussing how we don’t have enough money for water filters in some of our schools where there is lead in the water. LEAD IN THE WATER. And we can’t pay for filters?! She came across as callous and tone deaf.

I don’t know. All I do know is that it is frustrating. I’m left with a bunch of questions…

Are there not communication protocols in place for this kind of event? Shouldn’t there be at least one official district email for all employees in a situation like this to prevent the spread of misinformation? As soon as a decision is made like today’s early dismissal, shouldn’t there be an immediate callout AND email to parents and teachers with all the necessary and specific information needed? Shouldn’t every avenue of communication be pursued at the moment the decision is made – instead of just one tweet??

READ MORE about Mary’s day and how she turned it into a teaching opportunity.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Elrod Announces Campaign for Nashville School Board

From a press release:

– Rachael Anne Elrod formally announces her candidacy for the District 2 seat on the Metro Nashville Board of Education.

“I’m raising my hand and running for school board to improve our schools so every child can thrive, and because I want every teacher to have the resources and support they need to succeed,” said Rachael Anne. “Our schools are made up of wonderful students, demanding parents, hardworking staff, and passionate teachers, and through listening and working together we can accomplish the goal of making our public schools the best they can be.”

 

Rachael Anne and her husband, Jeremy, have lived in District 2 for nearly a decade and currently reside in Crieve Hall. They look forward to seeing their three-year-old twin boys learn and grow in MNPS schools in the coming years. Between recent experiences with the school system, and ongoing conversations with parents, she knows the needs for system-wide collaboration, student-focused curriculum, improved classroom resources, and expanded Pre-K.

 

“Navigating our school system should not be difficult for families, whether a child is an English language learner, has special needs, or is just trying to get the most of their school,” said Rachael Anne. “It should be easy for every parent to understand a child’s options so they can receive services to not only do well, but to excel.”

 

Rachael Anne holds a Bachelor of Science in Education from Austin Peay State University and taught first grade in Clarksville, Tennessee.

 

“Teaching my students was rewarding, but I went through some of the same frustrations just to do my job every day that MNPS teachers face,” said Elrod. “We have to support our teachers, who are the best and most important part of educating our children.”

 

Rachael Anne, 35, has extensive experience in corporate training and improving employee performances, where she was known for her problem-solving skills and results-driven development strategies.

 

“The people of Nashville have a unique spirit of innovating while building each other up and pulling together as a community,” said Elrod. “I want our schools to reflect the same values.”

The District 2 school board seat is located in South Nashville and currently held by Dr. Jo Ann Brannon, who has announced she will not run for reelection. To “Raise Your Hand for Rachael Anne,” visit ElrodForSchools.com or Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at @elrodforschools.

 

Schools zoned for or located in District 2: Granbery Elementary, Shayne Elementary, Crieve Hall Elementary, Cole Elementary, Haywood Elementary, Tusculum Elementary, Croft Design Center, McMurray Middle School, Oliver Middle School, Valor Flagship Academy, Valor Voyager Academy, Cane Ridge High School, and Overton High School.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Beer Me

It seems one Nashville charter school is in need of new teachers and hopes to recruit them at an event with free beer.

Here’s a portion of the invite to an event hosted by Valor Collegiate Academies:

Come meet key members of Valor’s network and school-based teams, and enjoy a beer on us while learning about career opportunities at Valor! We have several openings on both our middle and founding high school teams in Fall 2018, which you can check out here!

The event is being held at Black Abbey Brewing Company on March 28th.

As an MNPS-authorized charter school, Valor receives taxpayer funds in the way of BEP (school funding formula) dollars based on the number of students who attend.

Is is explicitly against the law to use taxpayer funds to provide free alcohol at a teacher recruitment event? Not exactly. But, it is problematic.

First, imagine the principal of any other MNPS school hosting a recruitment event and using school funds to buy free beer for guests? What would happen if the principals at JT Moore or Hillsboro High tried this?

Second, while recruiting teachers is certainly important, that can be done without using taxpayer funds to buy alcohol.

Third, the state’s Achievement School District faced some trouble in the past when they held a teacher recruitment event and offered free alcoholic drinks.

In fact, a recent Comptroller’s audit of the Achievement School District noted:

In addition, “in recognition of ASD school leaders and support staff, management purchased $1,631 of alcohol using a purchasing card and charged the expense to Charter School Grant Funding, a private grant that provides restricted funding for operating expenses for school year 2015-16 Achievement Schools … .”

That purchase came up in the discussion among lawmakers Wednesday, with Rep. Harold Love of Nashville saying he was “alarmed and disappointed.”

“We advise all offices to never buy alcohol with taxpayer funds,” Mumpower said.

As a former state employee, I recall that on state-funded travel, we were always advised not to purchase alcohol with state funds and meal reimbursements were not to include alcohol.

Perhaps Valor will suggest they raised private funds to pay for the party and so should not be subject to scrutiny. Again, imagine the principal at your child’s school telling you they’d raised private funds to help the school and instead of using them for resources for the students or training for teachers, they were using those funds to buy beer to lure people into jobs there.

In any case, on March 28th at Black Abbey Brewing, there’s free beer courtesy of Valor Collegiate. Drink up!

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Not So Fast

Back in October of 2013, Governor Bill Haslam tweeted: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

Then, by April of 2014, he promptly broke that promise, giving no raise at all in that budget year.

Since 2014, however, Haslam has found funds to modestly increase the BEP allocation for teacher compensation each year.

So, as we’re in the last year of Haslam’s term, I thought it’d be interesting to see if Tennessee has, indeed, been the fastest improving state in teacher salaries since 2013.

The short (and unsurprising) answer is: No.

Using state data compiled by the National Education Association, I looked at salaries across the states.

Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

By contrast, states like California and North Carolina have seen increases of over 9% over the same time period, making them the two fastest improving states. Vermont is close behind at just over a 7% total increase.

Let’s pull back and take a look at teacher pay since Bill Haslam has been Governor (starting in 2011).

Tennessee teacher pay has increased by 5.3% over that time. The national average over the same time period was 5.7%. So, for the entire time Bill Haslam has been Governor of Tennessee, teacher pay in our state has been improving at a rate below the national average.

So, maybe we can’t be the fastest improving in the nation in teacher pay. Could we be the fastest improving in the South? Nope. That title belongs to North Carolina.

Let’s look at these states: North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Louisiana, Kentucky, Florida, Georgia, Arkansas, and Alabama.

Of these 11 states in the South, Tennessee ranks 9th in terms of average increase in teacher pay since the Haslam Promise. We’re not even at the average of these states, which is 3.3%. Since Bill Haslam promised Tennessee teachers their pay would increase faster than any other state in the nation, our teachers have seen their pay increase at half the rate of neighboring states.

That’s not very fast. At all.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

No More Paper?

Apparently, Metro Nashville Public Schools is in such dire straits due to a so-called “budget shortfall” that at least one school was denied a request for paper.

WTVF-NewsChannel 5 has the story:

“We would not allow any school to go without paper, we would not allow any school to go without materials,” he said.

However, that indeed had already happened.

“Overton did everything right,” said Evernham.

The school’s principal, Dr. Jill Pittman, put in a request for paper funding but she was denied. So parents, instead, took matters into their own hands and on Wednesday morning delivered cases of paper for the entire school.

While this issue has seemingly been resolved (paper was to arrive this morning), it highlights the continued confusion around the surprise budget crisis that has created a hiring and spending freeze in the district.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

You’ve Got Questions

If you are involved in public education in Nashville, you’ve been hearing a lot recently about budget issues. You’ve got questions. The answers are still elusive, however.

TC Weber takes a crack at explaining a bit more about the MNPS budget and the two issues (an enrollment drop and a shift in funding priorities) causing some concern around the district.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

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

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

TC takes the time to explain a bit more about Title I funding, too. Check out the post for more on the puzzle that is the upcoming MNPS budget.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

$850

Metro Nashville Public Schools finds itself in a bit of a budget crunch. NewsChannel 5 has this report:

Teachers braced for impact after Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph made the stunning admission that the district was set to lose $7.5 million in state funding, due to a unpredicted drop in student enrollment numbers.

A grim fiscal outlook for next fiscal years, means some principals may be forced to cut as many as 17 positions at schools where enrollment decreases are the highest.

For the first time in 15 years, Metro Nashville Public School’s enrollment numbers have dropped. District officials thought they would add more than 1,500 students in 2017 instead the district lost 500 students.

Nashville education blogger TC Weber offers this analysis:

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

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

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

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

Here are some thoughts I’ve had as I try to digest this news and what it means:

First, how was MNPS this far off in projecting student enrollment? The district projections indicated growth of 1500 students and budgeted accordingly. As TC points out, Nashville is growing rapidly, so one would expect the student population to reflect that. Additionally, the team running the numbers at MNPS has been in the business for some time. Sure, they may not always hit the nail on the head, but they were significantly off the mark this time. In fact, district officials expected MNPS to grow by the size of an entire high school and instead, they lost the population of an elementary school. Why? As TC wonders, is this an outlier?

Second, in the grand scheme of the MNPS budget (approaching $900 million), the amount of funds lost is relatively small. To put it in context, let’s say your household budget was based on a family income of $100,000. Then, you learn that you won’t get the customary year-end bonus. Bummer! You’ll be out a total of $850 for the year. Yes, MNPS is losing less than 1% of it’s total projected revenue. If this were your family budget, would you freak out? Even if you knew you couldn’t count on that $850 next year, you’d probably make a few minor adjustments and move forward.

Now, I know school system budgets aren’t family budgets and that $7.5 million is certainly important. I also would expect MNPS to build-in funds for unexpected surprises — like losing an entire high school worth of students. Nashville as a city has the ability to provide excellent funding for schools. Instead, the city faces a teacher shortage and significant numbers of students shifted to virtual learning.

While there is certainly some blame to be laid at the feet of Metro Nashville leaders, it also bears noting that our state significantly under-funds public schools. According to Tennessee’s Comptroller, we’re short some $500 million as state in terms of what we need to properly fund the BEP — the state’s funding formula for schools. If that formula were properly funded, MNPS would see some $30 million a year in new revenue. Even if you account for the unexplained drop in students (and resulting loss of state funds), you’d see just over $21 million a year in new money.

The MNPS School Board is set to take up the budget issue at tomorrow night’s meeting. It will be interesting to learn more about why this situation happened and what can be done about it.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

McQueen: Do It My Way

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said yesterday that despite a desire to move a struggling Memphis middle school into a proven local turnaround model managed by the district, she is insisting the school be moved into the failing Achievement School District (ASD).

Chalkbeat reports:

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday that American Way Middle School must be converted to a charter school in the fall of 2019 under the state’s new accountability plan. If Shelby County Schools doesn’t decide by March 15 to do that on its own, she said, the state will take over the school and move it to Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

While the Shelby County Schools iZone has been lauded for achieving solid results, the state’s ASD hasn’t gotten the job done. In fact, of the original schools taken over by the ASD five years ago, all but one remain in the bottom 5% of all schools in the state. That is, there’s be no significant improvement in performance.

So, why is Candice McQueen hellbent on moving American Way into a failed reform model? The Shelby County School Board has taken corrective action and set the school on a path that has gotten proven results at other schools. Further, McQueen’s chosen intervention is one that’s simply not getting results.

Will lawmakers in Nashville take action to stop this move? So far, efforts to rein-in the ASD have been met with significant resistance. However, the lack of a successful TNReady administration has hampered the ASD’s growth. McQueen says that will no longer be a problem:

The commissioner said the state’s decision to delay school takeover until 2019 is due to delayed test scores from the state. That won’t be the case in the next round of sorting schools into various “improvement tracks” under the state’s new school accountability plan. The state’s next list of its lowest performing schools is scheduled to be released next fall, which will inform decisions for future improvement plans.

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

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Legislators Advance Bill No One Wants

Today, legislators in a House subcommittee advanced a bill (HB2208) that would allow school districts to create policy allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.

Here’s what’s interesting: No one wants this bill but the lawmakers who voted for it. Governor Haslam has indicated he’s opposed. Law enforcement representatives spoke against it. The state’s largest association of teachers issued a statement opposing the bill. It’s not even clear there’s an agency willing to conduct the necessary training.

The bill is scheduled to be heard in the full House committee and in a Senate Committee next week.

Here’s the Tennessee Education Association email to members on the bill:

TEA is against a bill before the legislature to allow arming designated teachers across Tennessee. We’ve stopped similar proposals in Tennessee before. Laws in other states where teachers can carry guns in schools if they choose are dangerous to students and faculty alike.

Tennessee state law currently allows distressed rural counties that can’t afford SROs to designate teachers to act as security, if they undergo POST (police officer) training, if the local board votes for it, the director designates, and the teacher volunteers. The state doesn’t provide SRO funding.

HB2208 before the General Assembly opens this option to ALL systems. This is wrong.

TEA is working to increase funding for SROs, and other law enforcement resources to provide protection for our schools. Again, safety is not arming teachers. Safety is effective professional security.

Anything less, we will fight to stop.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

  • Contact your legislator: say no to arming teachers, yes to SRO funding.
  • Have your school board pass a resolution saying they won’t arm teachers.
  • Support efforts to increase law enforcement security in our schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

Teacher Voice Tuesday

A couple excerpts from blogs featuring teachers on this Tuesday.

First, from former (and now current) teacher Mary Holden, who blogs about her experience teaching and offers thoughts on her return in her most recent post:

I know what to expect. MNPS is struggling, as usual. We have some frustrating leadership issues, in my opinion. We have some scripted curriculum we are being directed to teach. We are being told there isn’t time to teach whole novels in English classes. We are being reminded frequently of the importance of the tests. We still have a culture of fear, where many teachers are afraid to speak out about issues. We still have an unhealthy obsession with data, data, data. We still have a HUGE over-reliance on tests and test data that is supposed to be used to inform our instruction.

READ MORE from Mary

Next, Scott Bennett offered a post on TC Weber’s blog about his experiences as an MNPS teacher. Here’s how it started:

When I left my teaching position there was no exit interview. No survey. No request for feedback from the district.* At the very least I was anticipating an email from H.R. I gave my notice and letter of resignation roughly 115 days ago, and I left my classroom on February 9th. So my departure wasn’t a surprise for anyone. Either they assume to know my professional opinions or they don’t want to hear them. Both are deeply troubling to me as teacher, a tax payer, a voter, and a parent. I’m not sure what kind of leadership doesn’t want feedback, but I’ve never met any great leaders who have insisted that they knew everything. Additionally, this district has difficulty recruiting and retaining teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. Some of that stems from the low pay, and some of it stems from the culture. If I’m a district leader and I can’t do much about the one, I’m sure as heck going to try and improve the other. As a teacher I’ve found that when students don’t care about the feedback I give, it is because they didn’t care about the assignment whether that is an essay or a presentation or a project. I end each semester asking about my teaching practices and how they can better align to student needs. I’m not sure what it says about an institution that doesn’t want feedback from it’s employees, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t good.

READ MORE of what Scott has to say about his time in MNPS and the challenges teachers face.

If you’re a teacher who’d like to share a story about your experience, email me at andy AT tnedreport.com — If you’d like to share anonymously, that can be arranged.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport