MNPS and A Few Good Men

Nashville resident David Jones takes a moment to compare the MNPS School Board to the movie “A Few Good Men.” In short, he’s arguing that some on the board “can’t handle the truth.” He raises concerns that have been brought up by board member Amy Frogge but have yet to result in a change of course.

Here’s his letter:

There’s a melancholy scene in “A Few Good Men” in which two officers are found guilty of conduct unbecoming a United States Marine and are dishonorably discharged. Exasperated, Pfc. Louden Downey asks, “What did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!” A somber Lance Corporal Harold Dawson explains, “Yeah we did. We were supposed to fight for people who couldn’t fight for themselves.”

Nashville schools currently find themselves at a crossroads. Though sitting in a city so vibrant and prosperous, MNPS has been clouded with controversy and disappointment. While many were hopeful when Dr. Shawn Joseph took over as director in 2016, that hope soon eroded and was replaced by fear due to the actions (and inaction) of the director.

Over the past two and a half years, teachers, parents, and students have watched as Dr. Joseph not only has turned a blind eye to the indiscretions of his coworkers, but has been complicit in covering up their crimes as well. When Dr. Sam Braden, principal of JFK Middle School, was accused of multiple charges of sexual harassment, it was Shawn Joseph who promised he would work to make those files confidential in the future. When Arnett Bodenhamer, a former teacher and coach at Overton High School, attacked a student, it was Shawn Joseph who overruled the suggested firing and allowed Bodenhamer to continue teaching in MNPS. When an allegation of sexual harassment was made against Mo Carrasco, executive director of priority schools, it was Shawn Joseph who ignored MNPS rules and bypassed human resources, instead going straight to Carrasco. And to top it off, Shawn Joseph has failed to report at least 20 instances of misconduct to the state, which is required by state law.

Shawn Joseph’s refusal to do what is right has created a culture of fear in Nashville schools. Teachers are now scared about what might happen if a colleague sexually harasses them. Teachers have even expressed that they might not report harassment because not only will their complaint not be taken seriously, but they might face retribution from Shawn Joseph if they file a complaint against one of his friends.

Yet in a time when teachers are fearful, employees are being harassed, and leadership is absent, our board members do nothing, pretending the problem will get better while it only gets worse. Like Harold Dawson explained, our community looks to the board to fight for the people who can’t fight for themselves. If our board truly puts children first, they should be demanding accountability, protection, and responsibility.

Instead, we’re given excuses. At a time when our schools desperately need leaders, at a time when teachers are scared their harassment claims won’t be taken seriously, at a time when a large portion of our students fail to read at their current grade level, at a time when priority schools have doubled and funding has all but disappeared, we’re left with enablers—enablers who give Shawn Joseph free rein to waste money, protect the powerful, and exploit the most vulnerable.

It’s time to put an end to this charade. We deserve better. We demand better. It’s time the Board of Education starts fighting for the people who can’t fight for themselves. It’s time the board votes to remove Shawn Joseph as director and puts us back on a path to success.

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


 

MNEA Makes School Board Endorsements

The Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA) released endorsements for the upcoming School Board elections. Here’s more from a press release:

“In the District 2 School Board race, we were very impressed with two candidates but ultimately voted to support T. C. Weber because of his knowledge of our district and understanding of what can and should be done in our schools,” according to MNEA-PACE Chair Stephen Henry. School Board Chair Anna Shepherd, who is running unopposed in District 4, received the MNEA-PACE endorsement because of her dedication to our schools and her district. MNEA Vice President Theresa Wagner notes that Tyese Hunter is receiving the teachers’ endorsement because she “outshined her opponents in her interview.” Hunter who is running for reelection has worked tirelessly as the school board’s budget and finance committee chair to get more funding for our schools and is keenly aware of the funding needs of our students and the impact of Nashville’s “prosperity” on our employees. MNEA-PACE voted to endorse former MNPS teacher Gini Pupo-Walker because of the outstanding work she has done with immigrant populations over the years and her deep understanding of our schools. She is clearly the best candidate in that race.

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

Got some education news to share? Send to andy@tnedreport.com


 

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


 

From Blogger to Board Member?

That’s the leap Nashville education blogger TC Weber is trying to make.

He notes in his most recent post:

I am going to do my best to focus on why I am the best candidate  – the level of my current involvement, the network I’ve built, my knowledge of the system, willingness to be a teacher voice – and not on why the other candidates are not worthy. As far as I am concerned, they are all worthy candidates and I look forward to spirited conversations about the issues. How my opponents choose to campaign is entirely up to them. As I tell my children, do not focus on what others do, but rather on your own actions. That is my intention and time will tell if I’m successful.

Do not expect to hear me engaging in charter school rhetoric. My position on charter schools is well documented and all you have to do is read my writings. I see no need to spend a summer rehashing those positions. Those who hold different positions are not my enemies, but just people with a different opinion.  I don’t have to embrace their opinions to learn from them, I just have to respect them and I must say I’ve enjoyed our interactions over the past year.

READ MORE>

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


 

Open Seats

TC Weber reports that there could soon be as many as four open seats on the MNPS School Board.

He notes:

Pierce’s decision (not to run), along with an earlier announcement by District 6 Representative Tyese Hunter, means that at least two seats will change hands next go round. Word on the street has long been that District 2 Representative JoAnn Brannon also will not be seeking re-election. District 4 Representative and current Board Chair Anna Shepherd announced late last year that she intends to seek re-election.

READ MORE>

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


 

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


 

Will Pinkston Responds

Will Pinkston offers his response to a piece that appeared about him in the Tennessean by way of the paper’s Op-Ed page.

Here’s how he starts:

“I have excellent relations with MNPS employees and I am proud to have earned the endorsement of our teachers and support employees. Our employees have told me countless times that they’re grateful I stood up to a Central Office bureaucracy that had failed students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers

“Nashville’s schools are thankfully under new management, and we’re now heading in the right direction. The voters in South and Southeast Nashville know me personally, and they will see through this flimsy attack by a handful of disgruntled individuals, four days before Election Day.”

This is the statement I provided to the Tennessean in advance of a smear piece that appeared in Sunday’s Tennessean. The newspaper declined to publish the statement in its entirety. Instead, it printed a report based on lies and half-truths leveled by a four former Metro Nashville Public Schools employees.

I won’t dignify the baseless allegations. But I will briefly address the two former employees who orchestrated this smear:

Read his full response here.

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

 

Stand on the Defensive

Just days after a controversial email sent from the CEO of the Martha O’Bryan Center raised questions about possible illegal political activity and coordination with political advocacy group Stand for Children, one school board candidate held a meeting with Stand’s political director that he claims was not about his campaign and did not violate any laws.

Alanna Autler of WSMV reports:

A candidate for the Metro Nashville School Board is facing questions after meeting with a representative of a political action committee this week.
District 9 candidate Thom Druffel met with Daniel O’Donnell, the local director for the special interest group Stand for Children Tennessee.

The organization has thrown support behind Druffel, along with several other candidates running for school board this election cycle.

The meeting took place at the Holiday Inn Vanderbilt, where Druffel works.

O’Donnell was seen entering and leaving the building Tuesday, one day after a mandatory blackout period kicked in. Under the law, PACs cannot contribute to a candidate during this period.

O’Donnell denies any wrongdoing and says he was taking the day off work. The timing of this day off seems odd given that it allegedly took place just over one week before an Election Day in which Stand for Children seems to have a great interest.

While at least one candidate mentioned in the Martha O’Bryan emails has called for MOB to stop recruiting volunteers in coordination with Stand or in support of her campaign, Druffel had no problem meeting with Stand’s political director and now claims he was just chatting with a volunteer and not coordinating any activity with a group investing heavily toward his election.

Stand for Children’s attorney released the following response:

Stand for Children and its political committees observe both the letter and spirit of the law. Any suggestion that there has been improper coordination between Stand and the Druffel campaign is categorically false.

As Autler notes:

Communication and coordination is also entirely prohibited between independent expenditure committees and candidates.

 

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

 

 

Marsha Responds

In response to allegations that her organization (Martha O’Bryan Center) coordinated with political group Stand for Children by recruiting volunteers for Stand’s endorsed MNPS School Board candidates, Marsha Edwards released the following statement:

Today’s story in The Tennessean references an email I forwarded to employees of The Martha O’Bryan Center for an opportunity to work as a paid canvasser in the upcoming School Board election, so that it could be passed on to students in our programs or anyone in our organization looking for paid work this summer. I felt that this was an employment opportunity for young people and we would pass along this type of opportunity for ANY candidate and will continue to do so. I added to the email what knowledge I had of the few candidates that I had met and the organization that was hiring. While I have been assured by our legal counsel that this email did not constitute “political activity” as defined by the IRS, I do see how the personal context included in the email could be misunderstood, and I truly regret that.”

“The Martha O’Bryan Center does not engage in political activity and our track record supports that. We are an organization that has been serving the Nashville community for over 120 years and continues to do so without political bias. At Martha O’Bryan we are about breaking the line of poverty through education, employment and family support, not politics.”

Her statement comes even as one of the supported candidates has asked MOB to stop volunteer recruitment.

Additionally, the email from Edwards notes that all the candidates are endorsed by Stand for Children and are “friendly to charters…”

Here’s some more insight as to why Edwards might want more Board Members who are charter-friendly.

Finally, she notes that one of the candidates, Jane Meneely, is a paid consultant for MOB and would be a “strong, smart, well informed, and thoughtful board member.”

I’m curious to know what Edwards would have done had Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, Christiane Buggs, or Jill Speering asked for her help. Would she have advised them that such recruiting was political, and therefore out of bounds for MOB? Her statement claims she would have passed along the information for ANY candidate who asked.

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