Tennessean Endorses in Nashville School Board Race

Today, the Tennessean released their endorsements for the upcoming Nashville school board race. The endorsements bridge the gap between those who are viewed on different sides of the education debate in Nashville. 

The endorsed candidates included both incumbents and challengers. 

Early voting starts July 15 and Election Day is August 4.

District 1: Sharon Gentry:

The first search for a new director under her chairmanship failed to yield a new CEO. However, she showed wisdom, prudence and humility by pivoting and embracing the help of new Mayor Megan Barry and the Nashville Public Education Foundation the second time around to invest in a monthslong community-focused search that led to the hiring of Shawn Joseph in May.

As public officials become more experienced, they should show growth, and Gentry has done so and helped move the board in the right direction.

She deserves another term.

District 3: Jill Speering:

Jill Speering has served on the school board for a term and has made literacy her key priority. Her passion comes through.

An opportunity for growth is to work on ensuring that she is not beholden to the Metro Nashville Education Association and that she can be a voice for all students and parents.

She has occasionally aligned herself with other board members who have taken a hard line on charter school growth in the county. However, she has shown restraint by not engaging in social media verbal sparring and staying focused as an advocate for the educator’s point of view.

District 5: Miranda Christy:

The candidates show passion and a commitment to unifying the board and advocating for children’s interests, but attorney Miranda Christy showed the greatest promise as a future school board member.

Her combination of experiences serving on boards, advocating for quality education and being willing to engage in public discussion clearly and in productive ways make her candidacy stand out.

District 7: Will Pinkston:

Incumbent Will Pinkston brings a profound intellect and sharp political skills to the school board.

His passion for prekindergarten, English language learners and greater funding for schools has helped move the needle on these important issues.

However, this endorsement came reluctantly and painstakingly because of Pinkston’s behavior on social media, where he has used his platform to bully, demean and intimidate critics and adversaries, real or perceived.

The Tennessean expects much more of elected officials, especially those who are advocating for the children of our community.

So do the residents of Nashville, whose children probably would be tossed out of classrooms if they displayed some of the behavior we have seen.

District 9: Thom Druffel:

Aside from extensive business experience, he has been a volunteer in Big Brothers Big Sisters and with the innovative Academies program at Nashville high schools, which gives students vocational training in addition to a liberal arts education.

He also has served on several nonprofit boards, which gives him deep insight into how to operate on a board. His temperament is such that he will show respect and discipline to fellow board members, MNPS staff and the public.

It should be noted that The Tennessean walked through the reasoning behind not endorsing Amy Frogge, the only incumbent in the race not endorsed by the Tennessean.

A passionate parent and attorney, Frogge also has served as a disruptive force unwilling to step outside her box and has shown a pattern of being responsive and respectful only when constituents agree with her.

Whether it involves social media behavior like writing acerbic posts and deleting comments that are critical of her, this behavior is not conducive to productive community engagement.

During the 2015 Project RESET initiative by the Nashville Public Education Foundation to restart the conversation on public education priorities, Frogge refused to review the research regarding proposed improvements to MNPS and questioning the firm The Parthenon Group’s credibility.

By not reviewing the material before leveling the public criticism, she missed an opportunity to show that she was open to being engaged by ideas that might challenge her viewpoint.

During the 2016 MNPS director search, her motion to add a candidate after six finalists had already been interviewed threatened to torpedo the delicate process for a school district reeling from one failed search. One finalist dropped out.

To her credit, she agreed to support the final outcome that led to Shawn Joseph’s hiring.

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


 

 

Jarred Amato’s Reading and Teaching Journey

This is a guest post by Jarred Amato, a high school English teacher with Metro Nashville Public Schools. Amato has served as a SCORE, Hope Street Group, and America Achieves educator fellow, as well as a member of the Metro Schools Teacher Cabinet. In 2015, Amato participated in the district’s Teacher Leadership Institute, and was named a Blue Ribbon Teacher and Teacher of the Year for his school.

The original post is here and you can follow him on twitter @jarredamato.

Growing up, I moved a lot. First, it was from Rhode Island to Massachusetts in the middle of Kindergarten. Then, it was off to Vernon Street in first grade and Austin Street in third before settling in on Jasset Street in fourth.

Despite the constant transition, I always felt at home with books.

The first book I remember reading on my own was Bears on Wheels by Stan and Jan Berenstain. I couldn’t tell you what it was about, or exactly how old I was when I read it, but I’ll never forget the sense of pride and accomplishment I felt when I finished it.

From that moment forward, I was hooked. From the Boxcar Children and Hardy Boys to everything by RL Stine and Matt Christopher, I devoured one book after another. With no smart phone or computer to distract me, most of my early childhood was spent either on a field or court, or curled up somewhere with a book, newspaper, or magazine.

Sundays were always my favorite because it was my mom’s day off from work. She would usually grab breakfast from Dunkin Donuts along with a copy of the Boston Globe, and I would spend the rest of the morning pouring through the sports section, reading every article and memorizing the league leaders in batting average, home runs, and RBIs.

During the summer, we would pack a cooler and make the hour drive to the beach, where I’d lay on the blanket with a book mom had recommended, stopping only for some body surfing, whiffle ball or a trip to the ice cream truck.

I also have fond memories of the public library, where I’d walk down one aisle after another in search of books to add to my stack before finding a cozy spot to hide for the day, and the local Barnes and Noble, where instead of buying a book, I’d take it off the shelf and read it in the store before putting it back.

Sometimes I wonder: Why did I read so much?

Maybe it was because books took me places, real and imaginary, that I knew I’d never be able to visit in person. Maybe it was because I found characters that I could root for and identify with. Maybe it was because reading helped me relax when I was upset, and allowed me to escape without actually running away (although I tried that too, but never for more than a few hours).

Maybe it was because reading was something that my mom and I could do together. Maybe it was because it helped me realize that I wasn’t alone, and that my problems weren’t so bad after all. Maybe it was because I saw books as the great equalizer. Maybe it was just because I was bored, and didn’t have anything better to do.

But, I think that the main reason I loved reading was that it made me feel smart. And as someone who grew up in a neighborhood where most kids didn’t go to college, that mattered a great deal to me.

It’s no surprise, then, that I always loved school. Yes, I was that kid who enjoyed homework and cried if I didn’t earn all “S+”s or “As” on my report card. As I look back on my elementary experience, a few things stand out:

One was that I had some pretty amazing teachers, who not only believed in me, but were also experts in their craft. Two, my teachers never told me my reading level or assigned me a test-prep worksheet, but because I read all the time and received great instruction from them day in and day out, I always breezed through the MCAS, Massachusetts’ standardized test. Three, reading and writing were always linked.

For example, I remember publishing my first book in third grade. In fact, I can still recall one of the lines (“I jumped as high as a kangaroo”) because Mrs. Madsen was so proud that I had used a simile. The fact that my teacher believed that a scrawny eight-year-old with a bowl cut could be a serious author, I started to believe it, too.

One more thing I appreciated about elementary school: we always had choice. Sure, teachers made recommendations, and I participated in lit groups with classics such as Mr. Popper’s Penguins, Shiloh, Tuck Everlasting, and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, but for the most part, I read what I wanted to read. And I loved it.

That changed in middle school, and certainly in high school. To be sure, there are many books I’m thankful my teachers made me read: To Kill a Mockingbird, Night, Of Mice and Men, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Catcher in the Rye, A Separate Peace, The House on Mango Street, and The Great Gatsby, to name a few.

But, I’m also certain that I would have read more often, and enjoyed reading more, if I was given choice. Instead, as my schedule became busier – sports practice, homework, TRL, and the emergence of AOL Instant Messenger — I learned how to BS my way through English class. With the help of Sparknotes, I was able to write killer essays on symbolism in The Scarlet Letter and the role of women in The Odyssey without ever opening the books.

While my love of reading faded in high school, Mrs. Smith’s Journalism 101 class inspired me to keep writing. As an athlete, I appreciated Mrs. Smith’s no-nonsense approach and tough love; she had extremely high expectations and had no problem letting you know when you failed to reach them.

It was under her wing, as a member of the school newspaper staff, that I learned how to write a lead, conduct interviews, take notes, check facts, and meet deadlines. I’m still convinced that the college essay I wrote – about balancing my time as sports editor and student-athlete, while trying to give back to my mom, who had sacrificed everything to raise my brother and me – was the main reason I got into Vanderbilt University.

In college, I quickly realized that I was much better at reading and writing essays than I was at memorizing formulas in Calculus (I think my only “F” ever) and Econ. However, it wasn’t until I read Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities in a course on educational inequity in America that I knew I wanted to become a teacher.

Upon graduation, I said “yes” to the first school that offered me a job and haven’t looked back since. As a middle school – and now high school – English teacher, I have had the privilege of falling in love with reading all over again. Even more rewarding is the opportunity to share that love and passion for reading with my students.

I know what the research says: that today’s teens are texting and snapchatting more, and reading less. There is no question that reading faces more competition than at any point in history.

But, in many ways, that’s what makes my job so fun, and so fulfilling. The competitor in me revels in the opportunity to prove to students that reading can, in fact, be more enjoyable than Instagram or YouTube.

The fact that there are so many phenomenal Young Adult authors out there writing books that have a way of affecting all students (and adults) certainly makes my job of creating confident and capable lifelong readers easier.

I’d have a much harder time selling students on the joy and value of reading if I forced all of them to read the same book at the same pace, regardless of their interests or ability level. But, by introducing them to novels by the likes of Kwame Alexander, Sherman Alexie, Kiera Cass, Suzanne Collins, Walter Dean Myers, Matt de la Pena, Sharon Draper, John Green, Khaled Hosseini, Marie Lu, Rick Riordan, J.K. Rowling, Veronica Roth, Rainbow Rowell, Gary Schmidt, Paul Volponi, Jacqueline Woodson, and Markus Zusak, I’ve got a chance.

Offering my students choice in what they read is only one piece of the puzzle. I must give them consistent time to read in a calm and comfortable environment. It’s also my responsibility to provide my students with the same love, support and encouragement that my mother and my teachers gave me.

This year, I got a bit emotional when one of my ninth-graders, beaming ear to ear, revealed to me that he had just finished a chapter book on his own for the first time. I could see in him that same sense of pride and accomplishment that I felt reading Bears on Wheels twenty-something years ago.

And I knew, from that moment forward, he was hooked.

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

 


 

Questar Picked as New Testing Vendor

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education announced a new testing vendor, Questar, for the 2016 – 2017 school year. The announcement comes after an important testing deadline was passed over with no announcement of a vendor.

What’s new?

  • Paper assessments for grades 3-8 for the 2016 – 2017 school year
  • The department will try to have an online option for high school EOCs
  • Testing will be reduced and streamlined
  • Costs were not disclosed

What is Questar?

  • Develops and administers assessments in Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York
  • Has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years
  • Also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment.

See below for the full release:

Tennessee Department of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced today that the department intends to award Questar, a national leader in large-scale assessment, a contract to develop and administer Tennessee’s annual state assessments for the 2016-17 school year.

In addition, McQueen announced that Tennessee will phase in online administration over multiple years to ensure state, district, and vendor technology readiness. For the upcoming school year, the state assessment for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar to provide an online option for high school End of Course exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for their high school students.

Questar will develop and administer the 2016-17 assessments as part of the state’s Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program (TCAP). Similar to the design of the 2015-16 assessments, next year’s tests will continue to feature multiple types of questions that measure the depth of our state academic standards, specifically students’ problem solving and critical thinking skills. The department also plans to reduce and streamline state tests and will communicate additional specifics in the comings weeks.

“Students, teachers, and parents deserve a better testing experience in Tennessee, and we believe today’s announcement is another step in the right direction,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are excited to move forward in partnership with Tennessee teachers, schools, and districts to measure student learning in a meaningful way and reset the conversation around assessment. Educators across the state have shared how having an assessment aligned to what students are learning every day has improved their instruction. It’s also critical that we continue to look for ways to streamline and reduce testing in our state.”

Questar currently develops and administers large-scale annual assessments for other states, including Indiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and New York. Questar has partnered with Indiana on End of Course exams for 14 years and with Missouri for five years. The department issued the official letter of intent to Questar today. Pursuant to state contract procedures, after a minimum seven-day period, the contract will be finalized and fully executed.

During the vendor selection process, the department surveyed industry leaders in large-scale assessments, vetting vendors that have successfully developed and administered large-scale assessments across the country. After researching multiple vendors, the department determined that Questar has a proven track record of excellence in statewide testing, administering large-scale assessments via paper and online, and developing a high quality test quickly, which makes it particularly well suited for Tennessee at this crucial time. This past school year, Questar administered the New York grade 3–8 assessments to more than 1.3 million students. In 2015, Questar also developed the Mississippi annual assessment on a timeline similar to Tennessee’s.

“Questar has recent experience developing a large-scale test thoughtfully and urgently,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We believe it is the right partner to collaborate with as we continue to develop assessments that are meaningful and measure what our students truly know and understand.”

Questar was also recently named as the state’s vendor for an optional second-grade assessment. This assessment will replace the state’s previously administered optional K–2 (SAT-10) assessment.

More information about next year’s test will be available after the department finalizes the remaining details with Questar. After the contract is executed, the department will share final details about the structure for next year’s state assessments, including administration time and dates.

Following that, the department will work with Questar to refine and finalize the assessment blueprints, which outline the number of questions devoted to various groups of standards. Those will be released later this summer. Additional resources, including sample test questions and resources that will help educators, parents, and students to become more familiar with the assessment, will be available this fall.

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

 


 

Charter Schools Included in Democratic Party Platform

With the Democratic convention coming up at the end of this month, the draft of the 2016 Democratic Party Platform has been released. Charter Schools are part of that platform:

Democrats are also committed to providing parents with high-quality public school options and expanding these options for low-income youth. We support great neighborhood public schools and high-quality public charter schools, and we will help them disseminate best practices to other school leaders and educators. Democrats oppose for-profit charter schools focused on making a profit off of public resources. We instead support increased transparency and accountability for all charter schools.

As a teacher, I love that that high-quality public schools are a part of the platform, but not everyone will see it that way.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton spoke at the National Education Association’s (NEA) annual conference. When Clinton spoke about charter schools and public schools collaborating, boos came from the crowd.

“When schools get it right, whether they’re traditional public schools or public charter schools, let’s figure out what’s working and share it with schools across America,” she said, as the audience of educators interrupted her with boos.

The problem of not working together is not just within the charter movement, as some say. It’s a problem with all sides.

We need to truly work together because that is in the best interest of our students, and that should be how we make all decisions in education.

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


 

 

 

Ten Years of TFA in Memphis

The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reported on the 10 year anniversary of Teach for America in Memphis. It was fascinating to see how the demographics of TFA Memphis has changed for the better over the last 10 years. What started out as mostly White teachers from outside Memphis has turned into a corps with more teachers of color and more teachers from Memphis.

“There were five people of color in the entire corps,” Turner, a member of that first local group, said. “Nobody from Memphis. In fact I think I might have been the only one in the corps who preferred to come to Memphis.”

This year’s incoming cohort has 138 teachers. A quarter are from Memphis. More than half are people of color, and half come from low-income backgrounds.

The demographic shift is intentional, Turner said, and indicative of the efforts TFA, and particularly the Memphis office, has made to respond to the needs of communities and critics of the organization’s work. The office added a local recruitment team that netted 24 corps members this year.

Compared to 10 years ago, more TFA teachers are staying in Memphis and many of those are still teaching.

I believe that TFA is a great way for mid-career professionals to come into the teaching profession with a great support network. Those support networks are not in place in some teaching colleges in Tennessee that offer transitional teaching programs.

Of the first cohort 10 years ago, 25 percent of the teachers remained in Memphis after their two-year commitment. The cohort that just wrapped its second year in schools this spring has 70 percent staying locally. Of those who are staying, 90 percent are still teaching, Turner said.

Corps members are also no longer nearly exclusively just out of college. Ten years ago, all but six were recruited their senior year of college. This year, 38 percent are just like Cassell — mid-career professionals looking for a change.

The 33-year-old former accountant came from an education nonprofit in New York City, passing up other big cities with TFA in favor of Memphis where she thought she could make the most difference. She also hopes to add an international flair — her family fled civil war in Liberia for the United States in 1991.

What’s great is that there are 250 TFA alumni in Memphis currently teaching and another 150 TFA alumni are still living and working in Memphis after their TFA time.

According to the Report Card on the Effectiveness of Teacher Training Programs, Teach for America Memphis teachers were better than beginning teachers in 4th-8th grade TCAP composite, science, and social studies and on the high school End of Course exam composite, Algebra I, and biology exams. The same group of teachers also struggled in reading and math compared to other teachers statewide.

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


 

Nashville Chamber’s SuccessPAC Endorses in School Board Race

Today, the Nashville Chamber’s SuccessPAC endorsed candidates for the upcoming Nashville School Board race. Below is part of the release from the SuccessPAC:

SuccessPAC, the political action committee created by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce for school board elections, announced today its support for four Metro school board candidates in the Aug. 4 election in which voters will elect five of the nine school board members. The SuccessPAC board invited all candidates who qualified for the ballot across the five districts up for election to complete a questionnaire and interview with the committee.

“Our committee had a thorough discussion about each of the candidates over the course of the past two months,” said Darrell S. Freeman, Sr., SuccessPAC chairman. “In making our endorsement decisions, we look for candidates who are knowledgeable, experienced and are focused first and foremost on academic success for all students. This year, we specifically looked for a commitment to improve the board’s governance and public perception.

The endorsed candidates are:

District 1: Sharon Gentry

“School Board member Sharon Gentry has served ably for two terms, and has led the board as chair for the past two years” said Freeman. “Dr. Gentry’s leadership capabilities were clearly evident in guiding an often divided board through the completion of the second director search in 2016. It was successful, largely because the board was able to learn from and address the shortcomings of the 2015 search. Leadership is realizing when something isn’t working and then being willing to try a different approach.”

The other candidate in the race, Janette Carter, was not able to schedule an interview with the committee.

District 3: Jane Grimes Meneely

“The committee was impressed with Jane Grimes Meneely’s past business experience in management, technology and human resources,” said Freeman. “Her focus is on making sure there are high-performing public schools in every neighborhood in district 3. She is also committed to a school board that focuses on setting policy and a cohesive strategy for improvement.”

“The committee respects greatly incumbent Jill Speering’s long career as an MNPS educator and her passion for literacy. We are hopeful that new leadership gives the next board an opportunity to move past the divisiveness that has characterized much of the past four years.”

District 5: Christiane Buggs & Miranda Christy

Voters in district 5 are truly fortunate to have a range of choices on the ballot. “We found Christiane Buggs to be an energetic, and passionate advocate for children,” said Freeman. “She has the insights of a professional background in education, while also demonstrating a clear understanding of her potential board governance role. Her teaching experience in both MNPS and a charter school also positions her to help the rest of the school board bridge their toxic divide over charter schools.”

“We believe Miranda Christy has the necessary background, skills and temperament to be an outstanding school board member,” said Freeman. “Ms. Christy’s professional background as an attorney and her extensive volunteer experience in education equip her to be an effective representative for district 5. We appreciate her clear understanding of board governance and the need to also serve as an effective representative of her constituents.”

Voters will also find that candidate Erica Lanier brings a valuable parent perspective to the race in district 5.

Candidate Corey Gathings declined to participate in the committee’s process.

District 7: No endorsement

The Committee chose not to make an endorsement in district 7’s two-candidate race. “Four years ago, our committee believed incumbent Will Pinkston had the background and expertise to help lead our school board to a new level of strategic focus and effectiveness. Unfortunately, Mr. Pinkston’s public battles on social media and his attacks on officials with whom he disagrees have limited his effectiveness,” said Freeman.

Challenger Jackson Miller is an MNPS parent and business owner who has been a committed volunteer in education. “Mr. Miller’s candidacy gives voters a choice in the district 7 election,” said Freeman. Ultimately, the committee was not convinced that Mr. Miller had the time to manage the considerable demands of serving in elected office.”

District 9: Thom Druffel

“Thom Druffel is a longtime business executive and education volunteer who exhibits a passion for educating our city’s children,” said Freeman. “The committee was impressed with Mr. Druffel’s desire to steer the school board away from the political divisiveness of much of the last four years. We believe that Thom Druffel will focus less on promoting his personal viewpoints, and instead work to find common ground with the remaining eight members of the school board on how to move the school district forward. We commend Mr. Druffel for placing a priority on increased student achievement for all students.”

Incumbent Amy Frogge declined to participate in the committee’s process.

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


 

 

400 Attend Nashville Rise Forum

DSC_0264After controversy and boycotts, the Nashville Rise forum was held Thursday night with an estimated crowd of over 400. There were parents, families, teachers, administrators, and elected officials in the crowd. The crowd included many non-native speakers who were receiving live translation directly to the headphones they were wearing.

In all, four candidates did not attend. Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering boycotted the forum. Janette Carter, who is running against Sharon Gentry, was ill and was not able to make it.

Those who attended included: Sharon Gentry, Jane Grimes Meneely, Christiane Buggs, Miranda Christy, Corey Gathings, Erica Lanier, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

The questions for the candidates mainly came from parent members of Nashville Rise. While there are around 100 parent leaders in Nashville Rise, a few were selected to ask questions of the candidates.

“Tonight was important to inform the community on where candidates stand on issues,” said DeMica Robinson, a parent of Nashville Rise who also asked questions of the candidates. “There was also a consensus that change needs to happen now and that makes me hopeful.”

The questions asked during the forum were about traditional and charter schools collaborating, how we can best serve schools with a high ELL population, student based budgeting, retaining teachers, and closing the achievement gap. The questions allowed all the candidates to give their vision for the school board, something that would have been nice to hear from the three candidates that boycotted.

Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering refused to speak to 400 community members who care about the future of Nashville’s education. The stage would have been theirs to describe why they disagree with the other candidates and state where they see the future of Nashville’s education going under their watch.

Last night, many spoke to the future of respectful collaboration with Dr. Joseph and all members of the school board. This was an incredible opportunity for all candidates to participate in a positive, collaborative exchange.

Instead, there were empty chairs with their names on it.

Nashville Rise Fights Back

Wendy Tucker of Project Renaissance, which oversees Nashville Rise, is in the Tennessean disputing the lies made from a handful of school board members. Wendy Tucker does a great job at laying down the facts around Nashville Rise and Project Renaissance.

Like I have previously written about, Tucker first discusses that one of Will Pinkston’s demands was a list of schools that the parents of Nashville Rise send their kids.

We sincerely hope Mr. Pinkston is interested in the needs of all children in his district and across Nashville, not just of those who attend schools he condones.

She then delves into the fighting back the lies that have been spread.

Hasn’t Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise hidden their funding from everyone? Not true.

When reporters asked for our Schedule of Contributors, we provided it immediately. When The Tennessean asked for our tax return, we provided that immediately as well.

Isn’t Project Renaissance funded by the Eli Broad Foundation? Not true.

Mr. Pinkston and school board member Amy Frogge have attacked the Eli Broad Foundation and continue to insist that they are funding our work. We have never requested or received funding from the Broad Foundation.

What about the allegations Project Renaissance recruited Amy Frogge’s opponent? Not true.

We have also been accused of political activity, including a claim by Ms. Frogge on her public Facebook page that we recruited her opponent. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Project Renaissance has not engaged in any political activity, including recruiting candidates or participating in political campaigns, and our organization is not endorsing or advancing the cause of any candidates in this or any election.

Doesn’t Project Renaissance support vouchers and employ lobbyists? Not true.

We are not supporting vouchers. We do not employ a lobbyist and do not engage in any lobbying at the state legislature.

Sitting school board members are to blame for this false spread of information. It’s sad that our elected officials would rather spread lies than discuss education with Nashville’s parents.

Public officials should be mindful of the irreparable harm that false accusations cause. While lively debate is a reality in the education arena, defamation takes things too far.

Wendy Tucker again extends the invitation to the forum to Pinkston, Frogge, and Jill Speering.

Are these school board members too afraid to talk to a group of diverse parents? It looks that way so far.

 

Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

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

The Slippery Slope of the Nashville Rise Pullout

This morning, School Board Member Amy Frogge released a statement about Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise on her Facebook page in response to a video that was released by Phil Williams that reveals the funding behind the organizations. Phil Williams reports the Scarlett Foundation as a major funder for Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge states in her Facebook post, “… we do know that the group is funded in part by the Scarlett Foundation, a pro-charter/voucher group that is tied to the Beacon Center and the American Legislative Exchange Council.”

Additionally, Amy Frogge, without any evidence whatsoever, threw out another baseless allegation that her opponent, Thom Druffel, was recruited by Project Renaissance.

First, Project Renaissance/Nashville Rise is a 501 c3 organization. By definition, they cannot contribute money on any election activities. They are only focusing on parent engagement, including hosting forums to get parents engaged. As a matter of fact, it was the parents of Nashville Rise that voted to do the forum, not Project Renaissance.

Amy Frogge, Will Pinkston, and Jill Speering are not attending this event. Don’t let Amy Frogge’s post make you think it was this Phil Williams report that caused them to drop out. These decisions were already made before this piece was released.

The Investigation

In fact, we see that this “investigation” by Phil Williams came at the request of Will Pinkston, to whom Phil Williams only referred to as “an unnamed board member” in his piece. Emails obtained by Tennessee Education Report show Will Pinkston added 13 members of the press to his emails with Nashville Rise on June 9th.

Before Pinkston decided to attend the event, he wanted Nashville Rise to answer a variety of questions, including, “Of those parents who are part of the coalition, how many are residents of my School Board District 7 and what schools do their children attend?”

I find it strange that Will Pinkston wants to know the specific schools parents send their children to. He is a representative of all District 7, not just parents who send their children to schools he approves of. Does Will Pinkston treat parents differently if they send their students to JT Moore, Valor, or Harpeth Hall? If so, he does not deserve to be an elected official.

When reached by Tennessee Education Report, Nashville Rise released the following statement:

“On May 10th, we invited all school board candidates on the August 2016 ballot to participate in a city-wide, parent-led forum. Our hope was to have all candidates in attendance, so that parents could engage with them and make informed decisions about the race. We gave candidates a deadline for notifying us of participation. That deadline was June 13th at noon. Prior to the deadline, every candidate with the exception of Will Pinkston had responded. Jill Speering, who initially RSVPd that she planned to participate, notified us prior to the deadline that she would now be out of town. Amy Frogge declined our invitation. All other candidates, with the exception of Mr. Pinkston, plan to participate.”

Slippery Slope

If school board candidates start down the path of not attending events because of the organization’s funding, they will not be able to attend any events by the organizations listed below.

In the same 990 that shows that the Scarlett Foundation gave $250,000 to Project Renaissance, it also shows that they gave to many other organizations including Metro Nashville Public Schools, Conexion Americas, Communities in Schools, and United Way for the Read to Succeed program.

That means Will Pinkston couldn’t hold another campaign kickoff event at Conexion Americas, Amy Frogge couldn’t attend an event about wrap around services through Communities in Schools, and Jill Speering couldn’t attend a Read to Succeed event.

Are these school board members ready to go down this slippery slope? Should people boycott all of these nonprofits? Pinkston himself has touted the incredible work of Conexion Americas, and rightfully so. Frogge has been one of the largest advocates of Communities in Schools, and rightfully so.

Will Pinkston says that these organizations below should “return the dirty money.” Is that really what we want? I hope not because returning money will hurt the students of Nashville.

As someone who has put together a mayoral forum in the past, the goal is to get a moderator who is a member of the press in order to maintain impartiality. That’s what Nashville Rise has done. In good faith, they got David Plazas to moderate. Plazas has experience moderating many forums in Nashville, including a few mayoral forums last year.

Scarlett Foundation Funders

While the Scarlett Foundation gives to plenty of charter schools, they also give to a wide variety of nonprofits in Nashville that are making a huge difference in the lives of students in Nashville.

Here are some organizations that have received funding:

Almost 70 students have received tuition scholarships from the Scarlett Foundation
Metro Nashville Public Schools – $222,566 – Support program
Conexion Americas -$100,000 – Support of Parents as Partners Programs in MNPS
Oasis Center – $150,000 – Support for Nashville College Connection
Big Brothers Big Sisters – $50,000 – Support Programs
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $312,450 – Purchase Read to Succeed Program
United Way of Middle Tennessee – $35,000 – Books for Imagination Library
Book’em – $30,000 – Purchase new books for reading is fundamental programs
Backfield in Motion – $35,000 – Support for educational supplies for tutoring program for boys ages 10-18
Girl Scouts – $15,000 – Support of college access and college tutor program
Homework Hotline – $29,250 – Cost of middle school tutoring
Junior Achievement – $30,000 – Support “company program”
Martha O’Bryan Center – $80,000 – Thrive – Top Floor Zone
Nashville Adult Literacy Council – $50,000 – Support drop-in learning center to help adults learn to read
Pencil Foundation – $6,000 – Expansion of the reading partners program
Preston Taylor Ministries – $10,000 – Support afters chool program
Communities in Schools – $50,000 – Support for site directors at MNPS schools
Nashville Public Library Foundation – $53,043 – Support full time reading specialist
American Education Assistance Foundation – $125,000 – Support for Tennessee Promise Scholarship

There are other deserving organizations that do incredible work that are funded as well, but these are just a few. Like I said, charter schools in Nashville have been funded by this organization, but it’s not just an organization that gives only to charter schools. To me, it looks like an organization that cares about students. I love that we have a grant making organization that supports organizations in Middle Tennessee.

To discredit Nashville Rise because of their association with this generous foundation is unjustified from elected officials who say they are doing what’s best for students in Nashville.

Update (6/15): Will Pinkston has responded to the post by calling me a “nitwit” and stating my attacks on him are “kind of like powder puffs or a tickle fight. 😉