An Interview with Jill Speering

Jill Speering is a retired educator and former Nashville School Board member. Her book, Rubies in the Rubble, tells the story of her life – from a challenging childhood to a career in the classroom to her time on the school board.

Below is an interview with Speering about her book and her education career.

1) Let’s start with the basics – writing a book is a significant undertaking – what inspired you to start this project and what helped you push through to completion?

In February 2020,  I flew to New Zealand–the birthplace of Reading Recovery®– to visit a country with a literacy rate of 99%. In New Zealand, I visited 19 schools to closely observe their teaching and learning. I wanted to continue using my position on the board as a platform to improve literacy instruction in Nashville; however, because of COVID-19, I couldn’t share my New Zealand experiences from the board floor. This provided the impetus for me to keep writing.

During my 35-year teaching career, I taught children to read through the reciprocal process of writing, so I used the same methods in the writing of my own book.  One of those techniques is to share drafts with peers for feedback.  During one early draft, I shared my manuscript with Dr. Tammy Lipsey who told me that she wanted to hear more about my father.  This surprised me because my dad had been a topic I didn’t discuss with anyone except my family. I had five notebooks filled with letters Dad had written to my mother when he was overseas before, during, and after WWII.  Although I had previously perused the letters, I now delved into them much more deeply.

The more I wrote, the more I realized my father’s impact on me–especially on my teaching career. I believe that I would not have developed a passion for working with low-performing, high-need students if not for the influence of my dad. I didn’t want any child to feel the way I felt growing up. The book flowed out of me–I had to write it.  It completely overtook my life.  I sat at the computer daily for endless hours—writing, thinking, researching, revising, and editing.  

2) You write openly about a harrowing childhood – can you talk more about what skills you called upon to survive in that difficult environment? What did you learn/takeaway from those formative experiences?

I loved my mother.  Even at the tender age of four, I became fearless when I saw my father abuse her. I didn’t think about the consequences; I just jumped in to help her. Mother believed in me. She was my salvation, my rock, my support.  She was the most important person in the world to me.  At a very early age, I made it my responsibility to protect my mother. That responsibility followed me through my teaching career and service on the school board.  I took responsibility for every child’s success and failure in my classroom knowing it was up to me to find the right way to teach each student. When a child was falling behind in my classroom, I felt it was my failure as an educator to adequately teach him and to genuinely demonstrate my belief in the student’s ability to succeed. The blame did not rest on the student but on me. This deep-seated philosophy is rooted in my own failure in elementary school. It wasn’t that I was stupid, as my father had proclaimed, but I had not experienced an environment where I was invited to grow without fear of failure or ridicule. When given opportunities to learn with loving, caring, patient (like my mother), and supportive teachers who knew how to build on my strengths, I flourished.  
While serving on the school board, friends asked me where I had learned to stand up so firmly for my convictions even when I was aware of the possible repercussions.  As I wrote Rubies in the Rubble, I began to make connections between the way I stood up to my father, my passion for teaching and advocating for children who had endured similar home environments, and for educators whose voices were omitted from decision-making processes. 

I think it’s imperative that educators follow their students’ interests and allow their curiosity to help lead instruction. When I was in third grade, I took piano lessons.  After several months, I heard a cousin play a particular waltz.  I loved the piece and asked my piano teachers to help me learn to play it.  She told me that it was too difficult for me.  She dismissed my ambition and was not willing to teach me how to play the song. As a result, I quit piano lessons. My mother bought the piece of music for me, and I learned to play it all by myself.  I still play that same waltz 50 years later when I sit down at the piano and it still brings me joy. I believe when students are motivated to learn, we must support them in those efforts. The human spirit can overcome what may appear to be impossible obstacles. My mother and several great teachers were the impetus for me to believe in myself and find the motivation to learn. 

3) You had quite a journey to become an educator – what force or forces propelled you forward as you persistently pursued teaching?

When I first applied for a teaching position in Metro Schools in 1974, the field was saturated with educators pursuing a teaching position.  The vigilance/passion I had developed from attempting to care for my mom during childhood did not serve me well when I attempted to join the ranks of Metro teachers.  Dr. Wittington, Director of Elementary Personnel, saw my persistent calling as pestering rather than the passion of a young teacher. I eventually gave up on Metro Schools and taught for six years in Sumner County where I achieved Career Ladder III status as a Master Teacher before accepting a position with Metro School six years later while Dr. Whittington was on vacation. 

Continuously seeking to improve my teaching led me on a path to receiving a Master’s Degree in reading.  Yet, I still needed to know more in order to effectively teach my most at-risk students.  Although I was awarded Career Ladder III status in 1985, I still needed additional, high-quality professional development. With the extra money provided from summer work with the Career Ladder program, I funded a three-week seminar at the University of New Hampshire to study the writing process with experts in the field.  Still, I needed more!  In 1995, MNPS invited me to attend the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader year-long professional development training at The Ohio State University.  Finally, I was able to successfully teach all children to read, and I became a trainer to support educators become effective literacy leaders for emergent readers and writers. 

4) What do you think your early experiences brought to your students when you were teaching? 

My fifth-grade teacher in Sumner County schools did not like me.  She made her disdain for me clear to the entire class.  Each morning as I was dropped off in front of Guild Elementary, I lost my breakfast as I exited the car.  It didn’t matter if I threw up right there in front of the car line, I was still expected to go through those doors and spend another day with a teacher who thought as highly of me as my own father. 

From that atrocious year, I learned that what a teacher thinks of her students is communicated in word, deed, and action. I never wanted a child to feel that I didn’t like them or have 100% faith and belief in their abilities. I had experienced the dichotomy of failure at the hands of a wounded father and inpatient teachers, but also the uplifting exposure of success from a loving mother and patient, caring teachers.  As an educator, I learned from both extremes. Because I had experienced failure in the fifth grade, I wanted to save children from the pain and embarrassment of defeat. Rather than telling kindergarten and first-grade students what they were doing wrong, I showed them what they were doing right.  Accepting students’ near attempts at literacy approximations provided the impetus for them to continue their efforts, and I witnessed the students’ motivation increase.

5) What would you say to the young teacher facing today’s challenging school climate?

Be careful about following a curriculum verbatim.  If the curriculum is boring to you, it’s boring to your students. Interweave the prescribed curriculum into the lives of your students.  Build your instruction on students’ interests, prior knowledge, and previous experiences.  Make learning fun. Create a community of learners where everyone works together. Community is established when students have a voice and an opportunity to write and share their feedback with you about their own learning processes. Build your instruction on what students already know. This simple procedure makes learning new information easier and more expedient.  

Have faith in your students’ abilities even before they have demonstrated those skills. Take one step at a time–one teaching point at a time–always given after you’ve shared what your students have done well. Enjoy your teaching and your students will love school. 

6) You served on the School Board during a tumultuous political time in Nashville – what were your biggest challenges and what do you see as the Board’s greatest accomplishments?

I was so proud of the board’s unanimous decision to hire Dr. Shawn Joseph who brought the Arbinger principles to Metro Schools.  Arbinger is a behavioral approach for the improvement of organizations by helping individuals think about others-–rather than just themselves. The Arbinger principles helped to bring the board together in a new way; however, the board and NewsChannel 5 soon discovered that Dr. Joseph’s message to us was often different from his message to teachers and principals. Although I spoke with Dr. Joseph privately about this discrepancy, little changed.  Retaliation appeared to be his modus operandi as he was involved in several retaliation lawsuits by district employees.  Eventually, I found myself at the whim of his frustration when the day before the board presented the MNPS budget to the mayor, Dr. Joseph recommended that 85 Reading Recovery teaching positions be terminated even after he touted that Reading Recovery was one of the best reading interventions in the country. Although I had previously seen him as a leader who was passionate about low-performing, at-risk minority students, his behavior cemented my belief that he was not who he had presented himself to be. Problems continued to mount, and eventually, five members of the board agreed that his tenure needed to end. Continuing his retaliation efforts, Dr. Joseph appeared to push the narrative that I was a racist, but my long-standing commitment to successfully teaching inner-city students in poverty stood the test of time. I was well-known in the district.  People who knew me were aware that Dr. Joseph’s attempts to discredit me were a stretch and a way to circumvent the negative press surrounding him.

Hiring Dr. Adrienne Battle is the board’s greatest accomplishment. Her calm presence and genuine caring for students and educators have been widely applauded. Dr. Battle’s experience in elementary, middle, and high school is foundational to making the best decisions for all students.

7) How has the school board changed since you’ve left?  What do you see as the biggest challenge in education policy today?

With Dr. Battle at the helm, the board is working together better than I remember in recent history.  She has led MNPS through the last few years of a pandemic as she has successfully kept students and educators safe while continuing to provide the best choices for learning opportunities.

The biggest challenge in education today is the assault on our democracy by demonizing educators and public schools through the use of high-stakes testing, the proliferation of charter schools, and now vouchers. Safety is a primary concern for students and educators. Although our state constitution protects students’ rights to public education, the state commissioner of education and the state board have made the teaching profession so inhospitable and underpaid that the pipeline for new teachers has virtually dried up. 

8) If you had to distill “Rubies in the Rubble” down to two or three key lessons, what would they be?

–Everyone has suffered some type of trauma in their life. Over time, we can give a different meaning to our adverse life experiences to help others avoid the pitfalls we endured. 

–Looking back over our lives, we can discover that there is a divine presence that is guiding us along the many paths life has to offer.  As we listen to and follow that inner guidance, we find that all of life is a miracle. 
–Knowing our truth and having the courage to speak that truth–no matter the consequences–is one of life’s greatest accomplishments of self-actualization.

Rubies in the Rubble was published in October, 2021.

Photo by Emily on

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

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The Nashville School Board is Exciting Again

And for all the wrong reasons.

TC Weber breaks down what’s going on at MNPS in his most recent post that follows last night’s highly contentious School Board meeting.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

Last night’s Metro Nashville Public School’s board meeting was an abhorrent display that should embarrass all of us. I try and instill in my children that making a mistake is not the defining moment, but rather what you do with the mistake. Last night, the MNPS board decided that when others go low, it will go even lower.


Some took to social media to further attempt to discredit Speering because she was not in attendance at last night’s board meeting. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume that all aren’t aware that Speering recently had open heart surgery. She attended all committee meetings during the day. My supposition is that she chose to protect her health and decide to go home instead of facing a hostile crowd. That’s not cowardice, that is just good sense.

Leadership is a lot like MAP testing, it’s an intuitive assessment. What that means is that you start off with a challenge that is perceived to be at your level. How you answer that challenge determines whether you move on to harder challenges or not. Get the question right and the assessment continues. Get too many challenges wrong and the assessment ends. Last night was a leadership challenge for Dr. Joseph. One that will not lead to the next level.


READ MORE about what’s happening in MNPS from TC’s perspective.

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


Amy Frogge Speaks Out

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge speaks out about the behavior of Director of Schools Shawn Joseph:

Take a moment and watch this interaction between Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and a female reporter. It’s important to note that this reporter was actually invited to the MNPS press conference, where she asked a perfectly reasonable (and pretty predictable) question: What would you tell the parents of children in priority schools?

Joseph is quick to put this female reporter in her place with a rude and unprofessional response. Rather than answering her question, he turns the tables on her, trying to bully her. After the press conference, Joseph’s fraternity brothers followed this reporter into the parking lot to harass her, telling her that her questioning of Joseph was not appropriate.

Joseph’s frat brothers had been asked to stack the press conference to show support for Joseph, lending a rather tone-deaf atmosphere to the event. Although the press conference was held to address the fact that the number of “failing” schools has more than doubled under Joseph’s watch, Joseph began the conference by saying, “Can I get an amen?!” The conference, which should have been quite serious, was strangely filled with cheers for Joseph himself. (Joseph, through fliers distributed with his photo on them, often requests that his frat brothers show up to board meetings and other events to cheer him on or to go after anyone who questions him.)

Certainly, people have bad days, and I would perhaps just disregard Joseph’s testy interaction with this reporter under another circumstance. But I have seen this sort of behavior repeatedly from our Director. While he can be very nice toward those to do not question him, he changes his demeanor toward those who raise questions about problems in the district. (It took me a long to time to see the problem, since I was very supportive of Joseph for the first year and a half of his tenure.) He particularly does not tolerate questions from females (no matter how professional or polite) and uses bullying tactics to avoid answering them. This sets a poor tone for the district, as it is his job to answer questions.

Joseph has tried to put my in my place (by threatening lawsuits, by telling me what I can and cannot say on the board floor and by inviting his frat brothers to meetings to call me out). He has tried to put Jill Speering in her place by cutting Reading Recovery (her favorite program that she championed for decades), thereby suddenly firing 87 Reading Recovery teachers, many of whom were Jill’s friends, with no plan in place to repurpose them. And Joseph is already starting to go after Fran Bush, the newest board member to question him. Joseph loves to use race as a weapon to protect himself, quickly labeling anyone who disagrees with him a “racist,” but I think he will find this tactic increasingly difficult to utilize as more begin to speak up.

This is the behavior of a bully, plain and simple. Joseph has banned employees from speaking to board members. And just yesterday, he actually banned employees from writing anything negative on social media about the district or its leadership. These are crazy times.

Since I have begun speaking up against problematic practices in the district, I have received hundreds of thank-yous from MNPS employees and parents, including flowers and gifts. Not a day goes by that I do not receive a call or message from a grateful employee. The usual message is: “We are hanging on by a thread. Please, please keep it up!” I have suggested that others must start using their own voices to address problems, but employees- and amazingly even parents- respond, “Oh, no- we know how vindictive he is!” Teachers, bus drivers, and other staff members know they will lose their jobs for voicing problems (they’ve seen what Joseph did with Reading Recovery as vengeance against Jill), and parents actually fear that Joseph will take funding from their schools or try to punish their children in some way if they speak up. Something is seriously wrong when we have arrived at this place.

Jill, Fran, and I am more than happy to keep standing up and to serve as a voice for the voiceless. I have stood up to bullies before; I have no fear and absolutely nothing to lose. I always outlast them. But for things to truly change, Jill, Fran and I cannot continue to be the only voices speaking for the community. We are doing all we can, but we need help. Please consider speaking up, even if you must remain anonymous and ask someone else to serve as your voice.

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


The Speering Letter

On Friday, MNPS Board member Jill Speering sent a letter to her colleagues regarding transparency. Here’s the text of that letter:

Good afternoon colleagues,

I’m writing to remind the board that on 8/20/2018 at 8:52a, I sent an email to the entire board requesting a discussion of several pertinent issues. At the agenda planning meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 4th, the harassment policy was still on the draft agenda.

Yesterday, I learned the harassment policyhad been deleted from the Sept. 11th agenda. Apparently Shawn Joseph pulled the item without permission or discussion with the Board Chair. Via telephone, Anna Shepherd assured me she was unaware the item had been deleted and promised she would return the item to the agenda. This did not happen. Unfortunately Anna did not returned my phone call nor has she responded in text, about a time to discuss the agenda. If this is a matter of legal concerns, I’m sure board members will work within established paramaters to ensure adherence to legalities.

I suspect we have all received emails from constituents voicing concerns as to why items on the news are not discussed on the board floor. Dr. Joseph apparently is unwilling to talk about the board’s harassment policy or other items of interests in a public venue and actually walked away from cameras when news media approached him as reported on Channels 4 and 5. What would we think if the Mayor of Nashville or the Commissioner of Education behaved in such a manner? In my opinion this is unacceptable. I’m convinced Nashville taxpayers have grave concerns. It is time to be fully transparent and hold the director accountable to the public.

When the audit discussion was on the 8/28 agenda, you may recall that Anna and Dr. Joseph attempted to stop any discussion or questions. In response to Amy Frogge’s concerns, Anna promised to place the audit back on the agenda and allow questions to be answered in a public forum–not through emails or behind closed doors. Again, the audit is not on the 9/11 agenda and there appears to be no attempt to offer a rationale why important topics of discussion are consistently omitted from the agenda. You will also notice that safe drinking water has never been discussed on the board floor despite repeated requests from multiple board members.

We will elect a new Board Chair at the top of the 9/11 meeting. At that time I hope we will have a frank and thorough discussion about how we will hold the Chair accountable to place items of public interests on the agenda. We need to hear how the Chair plans to hold the director accountable for his actions and responses to public questions and concerns. Dr. Joseph is the highest paid public official in our city and appears to be the least responsive to taxpayers. This must stop!

I’ve lost all tolerance for Dr. Joseph and the leadership of this board. As servants, elected by the people, we must ensure public accountability. Our students, teachers and parents deserve no less!

After seeking legal advice, I’m copying news media in an effort for full disclose and adherence to the Sunshine Law.

Kindest regards,


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


Is the MNPS Charter Proposal Illegal? This State Lawyer Says Yes

We learned this past week in a committee meeting that Nashville School Board Member Will Pinkston will ask for a policy change to require charter school proposals to list their location in their application. That would add difficulty to the proposal process because it would require a charter operator to secure a location before they even know if their application is approved by the district.

Many charter schools know the area they will open, but have not secured a location because it’s left to the will of an elected body to approve or deny their application. You can’t get financing to lease or buy a facility before your proposal has been approved.

According to a tweet by Nashville Scene reporter Amanda Haggard, Metro Legal said “if MNPS denies a charter based on not having location,  that (the) state could give them appeal if they chose to.”

School Board Member Sharon Gentry brought up the same fact in the committee meeting that this requirement could result in the State Board of Education overturning the denial decisions from the district.

The State Board of Education agrees, and says that it’s illegal to require charter applicants to have a specific location in their application.

The State Board of Education’s legal counsel, Elizabeth Taylor, said this past week during a State Board meeting that Tennessee law does not require a charter school to have a facility in place when they apply to open a charter school. The law, TCA 49-13-107, lists all the requirements that a charter application must contain, and a facility is not one of those requirements. “No, an exact brick and mortar address is not required at time of application,” Taylor added.

When asked if a local district denied a charter school application because they did not provide a location, would the state board uphold that?

“That would not be legally permissible as the only reason to deny an application,” said Sara Heyburn, the State Board of Education Executive Director.

The proposal brought forth by Will Pinston passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote. The five members voting to send the proposal out: Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Jill Speering, Anna Shepherd, and Christiane Buggs.

With 5 members voting this proposal out of committee, there is a good chance that this legislation will pass and become school board policy.

If members vote for this policy change, they are voting for a policy that is possibly illegal and will end up having charter schools approved at the state level more often because of it.

We know that the Nashville school board disagrees with the state being able to authorize local charter schools. If they pass this policy change, they are giving more power the the State Board of Education to overturn charter appeals.

This policy proposal should be voted down.

About Jill Speering

TC Weber recently interviewed MNPS Board Member Jill Speering and it’s up on his blog.

Here’s an excerpt about what makes Jill Speering want to serve:

Well, a community representative came to me and said she was aware Mark North was not going to seek reelection, and a group of Madison residents were trying to think who might be a good school board representative. My name came up and so they called me and asked if I would consider running for school board. I really didn’t know what that would entail, but as I pondered it, I thought, well, I could make a difference in reading for children. My experience with board members was they wanted to talk with teachers but then would easily dismiss any advice given. For example, I suggested that we needed a common definition of reading so that we could pick and choose the programs that work with what we believe reading is, and a board member said, “that will never happen.” But my first year being on the board, that’s exactly what did happen. In looking back on things, that’s what made me decide, Yes! I want to run. I can make a difference in the lives of kids!

Read more of this interview and learn more about one of Nashville’s school board members.

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


MNPS School Board Race Spending

Amanda Haggard has an interesting piece out about the MNPS School Board race and the key players.

She covers groups like Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE and Stand for Children.  And she notes their top targets: Will Pinkston and Amy Frogge (they are less aggressively against Jill Speering).

It turns out, the same donors and backers supporting Renaissance/RISE are also spending to unseat Pinkston and Frogge.

Frogge penned a pieced not long ago about why school board race spending is skyrocketing.

Here’s Haggard on the spending this year:

And then, of course, there’s the money. So far, Druffel has outraised Frogge by $10,000, bringing in almost $37,000 — $20,000 of which came from donors in District 8. Pinkston has secured a little under $70,000, along with endorsements from Mayor Megan Barry and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, for whom Pinkston was a top aide.

Miller has brought in around $90,000, with the largest contributions coming from charter school backers like DeLoache and Trump supporter and English-only backer Lee Beaman. Stand for Children’s O’Donnell says checks are on the way from his organization and mailers have already been sent out in support of its endorsed slate. Additionally, Beacon Center board members other than Beaman have donated the maximum amount in multiple races.

It’s worth noting that Beaman and the Beacon Center are supporters of school vouchers. Likewise, as was noted in an earlier piece on Nashville RISE, the umbrella group Education Cities is backed in part by voucher advocates:

And here’s something interesting about all that: The funders of Education Cities include The Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and The Gates Foundation — the Big Three in corporate education reform.

Perhaps more interesting is the group of partners, including the pro-voucher Fordham Institute.

Early voting begins tomorrow. Stand for Children says it is sending mailers and more money is coming to defeat Pinkston and Frogge (and ostensibly Speering). This in spite of some rather odd reasoning around Stand’s endorsements.

What does all this mean? The next few weeks will likely see the MNPS School Board races turn a bit ugly, as those who want a new agenda spend aggressively to defeat the very incumbents who have brought about mayoral collaboration and the arrival of a much-heralded new Director of Schools.

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





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.



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.