Changes Are Coming To Nashville Middle Schools

Dr. Joseph heard a lot of critiques about Metro Nashville’s middle schools when he arrived in Nashville. He later found out that those critiques were spot on, according to Nashville Public Radio.

The newly-hired administrative team held 30 parent listening sessions over the first few weeks. And moms and dads kept talking about middle schools and how they’d like to see them add rigor, more advanced courses and even just a bit more homework.

As a former middle school principal, superintendent Shawn Joseph thought maybe parents were just misunderstanding their pre-teen children. But then he visited many of the district’s middle schools, and the concerns about academics were “validated.”

As a middle middleprepschool teacher, I’ve clearly seen the need for the transformation of middle schools. The district spent so much time transforming high schools that it felt like they forgot about middle schools.

While elementary schools are now getting more resources, middle schools got a new name in 2014 (Middle Preps) and were left alone. It’s like needing stitches and throwing a bandaid on it. It’s time for a real transformation and not just a quick fix. It didn’t work in 2014 and it won’t work now.

As I wrote in September following the release of ACT scores,

Preparing our students for graduation starts before the students even get to the high school level. MNPS transformed our high schools years ago towards the academy model. I think it’s time to start looking at the transformation of elementary and middle schools.

Elementary and middle schools need more supports in place to help close the gaps before students move on to high school. I don’t have all the answers, but I hope MNPS will be looking into ways to give more support to our lower grades.

It looks like Dr. Joseph is answering this call. I think too many students are still coming to middle school without basic skills that middle school teachers are not usually equipped to handle. I hope Dr. Joseph will continue to add more support to elementary schools while he is working to transform middle schools.

So when will these changes start to take place?

“Now is the time to give middle schools the love and attention they need to help strengthen our high school programs,” Joseph says.

Joseph cautions that he doesn’t anticipate any “mid-year, shoot-from-the-hip shifts.”

“We’ll take a bite at the apple next year with more comprehensive plans in year two and three,” he says.

Good luck, Dr. Joseph.

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


 

Diane Ravitch Calls for the Termination of Shawn Joseph’s Contract. Do others agree?

Diane Ravitch, the former Assistant Secretary of Education and education historian, believes that the Nashville School Board should terminate the contract of Dr. Shawn Joseph just three months into his tenure.

If you need a refresher, Diane Ravitch is an anti-reformer who teaches at New York University. Although never being a K-12 teacher herself, she is a hero to many teachers around the country because of her anti-testing, anti-accountably, and anti-charter school stances.

She regularly blogs about the happenings in Nashville. In the latest blog post, she uses a post from Nashville blogger T.C. Weber, who has been featured on this blog, as proof to call for the termination of Dr. Joseph’s contract:

If the elected board can’t straighten out this mess and revise Dr. Joseph’s contract to assure that he works for the board–the board does not work for him–then it’s time to cut their losses and terminate his contract. Don’t accept excuses for his wasteful spending, his ill-advised hires, his importing of the same aides involved in the scandal in Prince George’s County. If he won’t comply, say goodbye. It’s imperative to admit it when you have made a mistake. Cut your losses sooner rather than later.

Diane Ravitch is close allies of Nashville school board members and many anti-reformers in Nashville. School Board Members Amy Frogge and Will Pinkston have regularly posted articles from Ravitch and have been featured on Ravitch’s national blog. Frogge has previously said that Ravitch “simply speakscreen-shot-2016-10-08-at-12-29-49-pms the truth.”

Here is Amy Frogge with Ravitch at an event in Nashville in 2014 that was put on by TREE (Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence—TC Weber is recording secretary of TREE), an anti-school reform organization. TREE has also put on other events where Pinkston and Frogge have attended.

It’s time we ask Pinkston & Frogge if they agree with Ravitch’s call for Joseph’s contract termination. We need to know.

Another education blogger who has been featured on this blog, Mary Holden, commented that she believes that “the board needs to admit its mistake and make it right. Now. Before it’s too late.”

While Weber doesn’t think Joseph’s contract should be terminated, he does believe other staff members should be fired because their “hirings are morally wrong.”

Do others believe that Joseph should be terminated? Vesia Hawkins, education blogger and former school board administer, believes this is just the start. On Twitter, she says, “The witch hunt to our Nashville’s first African American director of school after only 3 months on the job has gone national.”

Hawkins goes on to remind everyone that Nashville came together to hire Joseph. “The city identified the man they wanted in a director. Remember the committee? What about the community meetings? The many welcome mats?”

Those welcome mats are long gone.

I think it’s time to ask our school board members and education leaders if they think Joseph and his staff should be fired three months in. Are these the opinions of extreme bloggers or are these the represented opinions of the anti-reform crowd in Nashville? We need to know.

Three months in, are people already starting to work against our Director of Schools? This has happened before…I hope it’s not happening again.

I knew this day would come, but I didn’t think it would be so soon into Joseph’s contract when the calls for firing would start up. Nashville came together to hire an amazing new leader, so let’s give him time to show us what he can do.

But there is another person who “liked” the Diane Ravitch blog post calling for the termination of Joseph…Dr. Jay Steele. Maybe he is hoping for a second chance to become Director of Schools.

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


 

Mary Holden Welcomes Dr. Joseph

Former teacher and current education blogger Mary Holden recently posted her remarks welcoming Dr. Shawn Joseph to MNPS. Here they are:

Good evening, members of the school board and Dr. Joseph.

My name is Mary Holden, and I am an MNPS parent and former teacher. Dr. Joseph, I want to welcome you to MNPS. I’m glad you’re here and happy to see the direction you’re taking so far, which seems to be that of someone who listens and learns from those around you.

Recently, I spoke to the school board about what I would like to see in a new director of schools. One thing I mentioned was that we need a champion for our schools. Many great things are happening here. However, the inequity that exists in our neediest schools is unacceptable. They need extra resources, funding, and support in order to make them equitable. I support the community schools model. What we don’t need is more charter schools. I have heard you talk about equity, and I am pleased to hear that this seems to be a priority.

Another thing I mentioned was the need to truly listen and respect the teachers in this district. When I worked in MNPS, I noticed the culture of fear right away. It’s a real thing. Teachers feel intimidated to speak up for fear of retaliation. I hope you are able to dismantle that culture of fear quickly, and I believe your approach so far has been effective.

There is an important issue I want to speak about. Over the last year, the human resources department apparently enacted a policy wherein any teacher who is going to be non-renewed will also automatically be made ineligible for rehire. This means if a principal feels a teacher is not a good fit, instead of simply non-renewing that teacher and letting them go back into the pool of eligible teachers, that teacher is basically fired and not allowed to apply ever again in this district.

I know of an experienced kindergarten EL teacher fired under this policy for low test scores – in kindergarten! A first year middle school English teacher told to teach math instead and then fired under this policy for low test scores. Teachers who speak out and ask questions and suddenly that principal doesn’t like them, so they’re fired under this policy. The careers of these dedicated teachers are now over and done with in MNPS. This policy is harmful to teachers and students. I have three requests for you: 1) that you get rid of this current “policy”; 2) consider a new written policy where more than one person must sign off on teachers who are specifically recommended to be ineligible for rehire, and 3) please consider reviewing the files of those teachers from this year whose careers are, for the moment, effectively ruined. We have lost good teachers because of this, and yet there are tons of open positions. It’s not right, but you can make it better.

Another concern I have is your 47-member transition team. I understand the need for a transition team. But 47 is an awfully high number, especially when I don’t see teachers and parents well represented. There are charter folks, TFA, business people, and complete outsiders, but not a lot of actual MNPS stakeholders. It’s disappointing.

Overall, I am excited for your work to begin here in MNPS, and I sincerely wish you the best. Thank you.”

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


 

 

Dr. Shawn Joseph Announces Key Staff

Today, Dr. Shawn Joseph announced key staff appointments in Metro Nashville Pubic Schools. He has named a Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Schools, and Chief Operating Officer. 

Chief Academic Officer: Dr. Monique Felder, currently serves as Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.

Chief of Schools: Dr. Sito Narcisse, current Associate Superintendent for High School Performance at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.

Chief Operating Officer: Chris Henson, current interim Director of Schools and Chief Financial Officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Update: The Tennessean reported that Fred Carr, Chief Operating Officer, did not have his contract renewed.

See below for the press release that was sent to teachers and staff:

As Metro Schools’ employees, we want you to be among the first to know that our new Director of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, has announced the first three members of his executive cabinet in naming a chief academic officer, chief of schools and chief operating officer. Under the new executive structure planned by Dr. Joseph, one additional cabinet member—chief of staff—will be named before the team officially begins work in their new roles on July 1. 

The chief academic officer position is being filled by Monique Felder, Ph.D., who currently serves under Dr. Joseph in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland as the executive director of teaching and learning. Sito Narcisse, Ed.D., has been named chief of schools. Dr. Narcisse also comes from Prince George’s County but with strong Nashville ties, having earned his master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and serving as a student teacher at Antioch High School. Current Interim Director of Schools and Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson has been appointed to serve as chief operating officer.

Chief academic officer and chief operating officer are existing positions on the district’s executive team. Each will be reshaped with a new scope of work. Chief of schools and chief of staff are newly defined positions. These changes to the district’s leadership structure result in a reduction in the number of direct reports to the director of schools from six to four.

“Our goal is to ensure we have a structure that effectively serves students, families and schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “The four chiefs will work closely together so that silos within the organization are broken down. The new executive team will be expected to work cross-collaboratively to give clear direction and effective supports to our school leaders, educators, staff and students.”

Dr. Felder has over 25 years of experience as an educator. She has served as a teacher, principal and a district administrator for advanced learning. She holds a bachelor’s in elementary education, a master’s with a specialization in elementary science and math and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies. She also holds an advanced certificate in equity and excellence in education.

As chief academic officer, Dr. Felder will oversee all aspects of instruction and curriculum from prekindergarten through graduation. While this position previously oversaw principal and teacher supervision in addition to academics, it will now focus on student learning and social and emotional supports for students.

“If we are going to have real academic alignment through all grades and the highest quality instruction for all students, we need a chief who only thinks about teaching, learning and the social / emotional supports that are needed for student success,” said Dr. Joseph.

Dr. Narcisse’s career has taken him from teaching locally in Nashville and Williamson County to serving as a school leader in Pittsburgh City Public Schools and Boston Public Schools. He also worked on school improvement in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and as associate superintendent working on school improvement in Prince George’s County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in French from Kennesaw State University, a master’s from Vanderbilt in secondary education and a doctorate in educational administration, policy studies and leadership from the University of Pittsburgh.

In his role as chief of schools, Dr. Narcisse will be responsible for overseeing the mentoring, support and evaluation of all school-based administrators.

“Dr. Narcisse and Dr. Felder will bring an intentional focus on excellence and equity to Metro Schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “Their collaborative spirits and propensity for research-based practices will strengthen our strategic plans. They both possess the passion and sense of urgency needed to ensure that all kids receive high-quality learning opportunities. We are fortunate to be adding two highly-skilled equity leaders to our team.”

Henson has been with Metro Schools since 2002, serving as chief financial officer and twice as interim director of schools. He became the interim nearly one year ago, in July of 2015, and previously served in the role in 2008. Under his leadership, MNPS was the first district in Tennessee to be awarded the Meritorious Budget Award for Excellence by the Association of School Business Officials. Before coming to Nashville, he served as CFO for Franklin Special Schools and Sumner County Schools. His expertise in school finance and operations is unmatched in Tennessee. He has served on the State Board of Education’s Basic Education Program (BEP) Review Committee for over 15 years, recently served as a member of the Governor’s BEP Task Force, and is a past president of the Tennessee Association of School Business Officials. He began his career with Deloitte and holds a bachelor’s in accounting and business administration from Trevecca Nazarene University.

As chief operating officer, Henson will continue to oversee the district’s finances but also take on an expansion of his current responsibilities, overseeing all operational and business aspects of the district.

“Mr. Henson is a proven leader, and I thank him for serving so well as interim director of schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “This realignment allows us to streamline business operations and provide better services and supports to schools and communities.”

Additional staff announcements will come later this summer, including a full organizational chart expected in July.

 


 

 

 

A Bit of a Puzzle

Stand for Children is out with it’s list of endorsements in the School Board race and here’s how they start:

With a committed Mayor and the recent selection of Dr. Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools, there remains one major missing piece to improving our public education system: a better school board.

Interestingly, Stand advocates throwing out most of the incumbents running for re-election in order to achieve that “better board.”

But, it’s worth noting that most of the candidates Stand opposes supported Megan Barry in her campaign and the Board united to select Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools. That committed Mayor and new Director came about in as a result of the work of the current Board, not in spite of it.

Nevertheless, Stand says:

Imagine for a moment that we spent the next four years not rehashing the same old fights, but instead debating the best way to attract and support a great principal at every school; the best way to retain and develop our incredible educators; the most innovative ways to support our growing immigrant populations; and or the best way to ensure schools receive adequate and equitable funding and support.

While there have certainly been some vigorous debates on the School Board about how best to serve students in MNPS, the Board also adopted a revised pay scale designed to make the district more attractive to new teachers and bring teacher pay in line with similar urban districts. That same budget also made important investments in support of English Language Learners.

As for adequate and equitable funding, the MNPS Board has taken the state to task for leaving behind the promise of BEP 2.0.

The debate over charters is an important part of the discussion about MNPS, and there are certainly multiple perspectives. On one hand, you have those who raise the issue of cost and on the other, you have those who suggest the cost isn’t that high and the money spent is worth it. Arguably, both sides want what Stand says it wants: A Board focused on what’s best for kids.

Or, maybe they just want less of what they perceive as bickering. Or less dissent from a certain agenda.

The MNPS Board isn’t perfect, but working with Mayor Barry and hiring Shawn Joseph demonstrate a willingness to look past personal differences and focus on what really matters.

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


 

 

Offered and Accepted

The MNPS School Board offered the position of Director of Schools to Shawn Joseph in a unanimous vote.

Within hours of the offer, Joseph accepted a four-year contract with a salary of $285,000 per year.

Charles Corra at Rocky Top Ed Talk thinks the offer is a good sign:

1. Many hot-button education issues create division among students, parents, and public officials in Nashville. A strong leader is needed to navigate these difficult obstacles and lead our schools in a pragmatic way.
2. A unified school board, and ultimately a community, is the best and most fruitful way to welcome a new superintendent into the school system, and to foster a unified approach to solving the district’s problems.
3. MNPS boasts a diverse community of students. Dr. Joseph would arrive at his job with MNPS coming from one of the more diverse communities in our country, and with the requisite experience to handle the complexities that Nashville presents.
4. Dr. Joseph’s impressive resume shows his lifelong experience in public education.

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