MNPS Responds To Large Number Of Bus Driver Complaints

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Jason Gonzales at the Tennessean has a report out today that shows that there have been almost 400 complaints on MNPS bus drivers from August to January. These complaints range from not picking up students at the correct bus stop to some very serious accusations.

One case in the six-month span included an allegation against a bus driver of inappropriate communication with a student.

“Mom wants to report what she thinks may be suspicious activity between her 17-year-old daughter and her bus driver ‘Mr. Q.’ Mom says the driver bought her daughter a cell phone. Mom has the phone and found text messages between the two saying: ‘I’m thinking about you’ and ‘what are you doing,'” the January complaint reads.

“Also, she says that the driver has given her daughter money.”

MNPS doesn’t track the resolutions to these complaints so there is no information on if theses accusations were dealt with. Another accusation seems to read like the bus driver was okay with students fighting.

“(Parent) states when her son was on the bus in the afternoon route … three male students told her son they were going to jump him. The driver told the students, ‘whatever you do off the bus is up to you.’ Parent states after students got off the bus they jumped her son and busted his head. She feels the driver encouraged the students to jump her son, and didn’t do anything to prevent the incident,” a parent complaint to Metro Schools file in September says.

The board and district must act quickly in finding a solution to this problem and investigate all complaints. If bus drivers are having inappropriate relationships with students and encouraging violence, the punishment should be swift and harsh.

Thousands of students ride the bus each and every day. Their safety should be the top priority. This will now be the district’s top priority thanks to the reporting of Jason Gonzales. It shouldn’t have taken this long.

Palacios said the request of records for bus driver complaints “has been enlightening and identified as a serious priority” by the district. The management tool to monitor how resolutions came about from complaints would also be able to monitor discipline trends and how many drivers were disciplined, she said.

You can read the full article here.

Update (10:20am)

School board member Will Pinkston responded to the story on twitter.

Uncharacteristically good reporting by . I’ve been complaining about stuff like this since 2014. I’m glad is under new management. The new team is fixing broken processes and creating new processes where none existed. Logical follow-up reporting would be: Jesse Register systematically cut wages and hours bus drivers, causing many of the most experienced drivers to go elsewhere and leaving the remaining drivers overworked and stressed out. He left behind a mess.

The blame Register excuse is getting old from the school board. Jesse Register left Metro Nashville Public Schools on June 30, 2015. MNPS has been without Register for 633 days. The fault from this falls squarely on MNPS and the school board. Acknowledge the issue, fix it, and move on to the next set of issues facing our school system. Don’t spend time blaming others when you have the power to make changes yourself but failed to do so.

Blaming the problems of now on a leader who left 633 days ago is poor leadership.

Update (11:55am)

Nashville school board member Pinkston has responded via twitter:

Sounds like the nitwits are coming unglued and trying to blame the bus driver stuff on me. Let’s be clear about who did what and when. Let’s not forget who attacked for meeting with bus drivers to discuss their poor working conditions.

 

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

 


 

 

MNPS Budget Has Arrived! 3% raises and more…

Dr. Joseph has released his first budget as director of schools. It includes raises for teachers and support staff, adds more ELL teachers, and more. According to the Tennessean,  “Joseph is asking for $902.8 million in funds to operate the district, an increase of just over $59 million for the 2017-18 school year.” Here’s a first look at the budget, which you can read here:

 

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  • 3% raise for teachers and support staff
  • Increased substitute pay. According to Joseph, MNPS will have highest sub pay for middle Tennessee.
  • 31 new ELL teachers
  • 18 new translators
  • 11 new reading recovery teachers
  • 7 more school counselors
  • 19.5 additional itinerate staff (school psychologists, speech pathologists, and instructional technology specialists)
  • 2 SEL coaches
  • 4 more community achieves site managers
  • Every school will be required to have a literacy coach and a part time gifted instructor
  • Free Advanced Placement, Cambridge,  and International Baccalaureate exams for students
  • All middle schools will become STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) schools over the next three years
  • HR office will grow by 8 employees

Dr. Joseph will present the proposed budget to Mayor Megan Barry on April 13. The mayor and the council will have the final say in how much of the proposed budget is funded.

I wanted to share some of the graphics that went along with the budget presentation.

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


 

 

 

Let’s Change How We Treat Truancy

Below is a guest post by Roy Kramka. You will read about Roy’s struggle in high school and how the district did not try to help along the way. Luckily, Roy ended up enrolling back in MNPS and graduating. Could his story have been different if interventions were in place?

The bill discussed below would create a progressive truancy intervention program for students who are on the verge of being referred to local authorities for truancy. These interventions would decrease the amount of referrals to the juvenile courts. Could we solve this issue if we had a uniform procedure in place? Here’s what Roy thinks:

I’d like to draw your attention to Senate Bill 196 / House Bill 483 of the Tennessee General Assembly. This bill is designed to create a progressive truancy intervention program that seeks to address the root cause of truancy. Currently, truancy cases in Tennessee are handled by the juvenile court system, which is very good at punitively addressing absenteeism, but very poor at rehabilitation. This bill should have minimal fiscal impact (and could conceivably save money), but more importantly, can mean the difference between sending a kid to jail vs sending a kid back to the classroom with the support they need to succeed.

This is personally meaningful to me because I struggled in high school, skipping the last four or five weeks of my junior year (at Hillsboro High) and dropping out in the Fall semester of my senior year (at Hume Fogg). While there were no legal consequences to my absenteeism for myself, or my family, there was also little, if any effort by Metro Public Schools to determine why I stopped attending classes or intervene when I dropped out. I would later be diagnosed with a learning disability, a process that indicated I was only writing at an 8th grade level while trying to complete honors and AP course work as a senior in high school.

I don’t know how I could have helped myself before I started skipping school. There simply wasn’t a seed of thought in my brain that I had a learning disability. I had no idea that I could tell my teachers that my struggles with school were so painful and great that it was preferable to simply walk away from the dominant social and intellectual structure in my life to avoid said pain. My truancy was humiliating. There was no joy in dropping out. But at 17 and 18, I was incapable of the introspection and self-advocacy required to rescue myself and we shouldn’t expect such introspection or self-advocacy from any other 17 or 18 year old kids.

This bill won’t solve all the problems with the ways we educate our children, but it’s a step forward. Further, it’s an example of the way local politics are a powerful tool in shaping our communities. There are four branches of government: the Executive, the Legislative, the Judiciary, and the People. And at the local level, we are most powerful. While we call our representatives in Washington, only to have our pleas fall on the deaf ears of their assistants, our local representatives are waiting for us to call.

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


 

Are Ideology & Double Standards Harming Nashville Schools?

Is ideology holding us back from improving education in Nashville? TC Weber thinks so. In his latest post, Weber lays out his argument that we in Nashville quickly rush to our fighting corners (Charters vs No Charters) before we even really delve into an issue. We saw this take place during our last school board election in Nashville. I’m going to break down some of his thoughts with some of my own. 

People quickly fell into one camp or the other with defenders making the argument that nothing worse could befall our school district than to be taken over by private interests, while the privateers made the argument that the status quo had to go. Much to my chagrin, I must admit that I quickly grabbed a uniform and joined a team. And for that, I owe an apology to Jane Grimes-Meneely, Miranda Christy, Jackson Miller, and Thom Druffel.

Now I’m not saying that I would have voted for them nor campaigned for them. I still have a lot of disagreements with them on issues and take exception to a lot of strategies they employed during the election. What I am saying is that I quickly grabbed onto a dogma and stopped listening. Charter schools are bad, and they supported charter schools; therefore, they are bad. I’ve since learned the hard way that the world is a much more complex and nuanced place than that, and while we are busy building the wall at the front door, the wolf can slip in the back door.

Weber goes on to discuss the problems that he sees are facing our district right now, including policy governance, transparency, and double standards. But he comes back to the point that we must all come to: We must understand why parents want to go to a charter school.

I myself have been guilty of talking past charter supporters. Interesting enough, while I’m not an overly religious person, it’s been my experience that whenever I say I would never do something, the Lord puts me in a situation that helps me understand why I just might. This school year has been such an experience. The lack of transparency and the failure of the  district to provide equitable resources has led me consider alternatives. At this point, I can say I understand why parents consider charter schools.

I think anyone who is a part of this debate knows that many of us do not sit around and discuss ideas with someone from the other side. We have all set up a hostile environment, but even those who have not set a hostile environment join in by just picking a side in the debate. The hostile environment takes place inside schools, on twitter, or at events around town.

I’ve been yelled at in hallways of my school by a teacher, I’ve had teachers tell other teachers not to talk to me, and myself and others have felt silenced in our schools because of our views. That must stop.

Having people step up to make it stop will be the hardest part. It’s hard to break the cycle that we have found ourselves in. Think of how amazing our system would be if we actually collaborated with everyone. I think it would be wonderful.

That is how ideology blinds us and hurts us. Instead of making decisions based on the merits of individual arguments, we make them based on an alignment with ideology. How many board members voted for Dr. Joseph because he wasn’t a charter person? How many failed to question his actions because they were afraid of it opening the door for charter proponents? How many would publicly protest if his actions this year were committed by the head of a charter school?

Weber says something that will get a lot of charter school fans excited (bet you didn’t think you would hear that phrase). The double standard between if a charter school did something or if a district school did the same thing is staggering. There are many times a charter school may get dragged in the mud when a district school does the same thing. Before I started teaching, I remember hearing complaints that charter schools made their students walk silently in a line around the building. I started teaching in MNPS and guess what? We all get students in a line and walk them around school quietly.

I heard that charter schools kick out misbehaving students. I then worked at school that was able to do that same thing at the end of the school year because it was a choice school.

When I mentioned that tidbit years ago on twitter, an anti-charter school board member called for an investigation on that claim and said that it must be stopped. MNPS came back and said that students can be revoked from certain schools. The reply back to that member said, “This is also done at other schools such as East, Hume Fogg, MLK, Meigs, and Lockeland and several other MNPS schools.  Any school that has an option out of zone student at their school who does not follow rules can be ‘revoked’.” They cited a school board policy, which is voted on and approved by the school board, that allows the practice. I never heard that issue brought up in publicly after that. 

If we really want to stop charter school proliferation shouldn’t we follow the leads of Dr. Mike Looney and former Maplewood principal and current director of pupil services for Maury County Ron Woodard, both who say you don’t have to worry about charter schools if you make your school the most attractive option. The only ideology they subscribe to is to make better schools and the same should be true for all of us.. Yet we still fight the same arguments over and over and MNPS becomes less and less responsive to stakeholders.

I just want what is best for students and families in Nashville. That means that I am fine with students attending zoned, magnet, charter, or private schools.

You can read Weber’s full post here.

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


 

 

Stand for Children Looking Forward to New Year

Stand for Children was recently dragged through months of hearings after a politically motivated complaint was filed alleging they broke campaign finance laws. Earlier this month they were unanimously cleared of wrongdoing.

According to a new editorial by Daniel O’Donnell, it seems likes Stand for Children is looking ahead to a new year where they can return their focus on improving Nashville’s education.

There is a lot to be optimistic about in Nashville’s public schools these days. But the fact remains that a great public education remains out of reach for far too many Nashville students. In recent years, the achievement gap between kids from low-income families and their privileged peers has widened significantly; only 11 percent of Nashville graduates are considered “college-ready.”

Let that sink in. Behind those numbers are real kids with real lives – kids who deserve urgency and focus from adults.

Nashville spends an enormous amount of time debating public charter schools, and that debate no doubt colored the recent school board races. The prevailing charter narrative notwithstanding, Stand advocates for strong public schools, regardless of type.

Our record here has been consistent: In recent years we’ve fought for high-quality pre-Kindergarten expansion, high academic standards and topnotch district leadership. As a city, we should be doing more to support and learn from some of our incredible charter schools, while doing a lot more to lift up the schools that the other 90 percent of students attend. It’s really not that complicated.

Since the August election, we’ve been working with hundreds of parents in North and East Nashville to tackle one of the biggest challenges facing our school system: below-average third-grade literacy rates. Ensuring more third-graders are on track is one critical component of a larger effort to close Nashville’s achievement gap.

You can read the rest of the editorial here.

I agree with O’Donnell that we spend too much time fighting over charter schools when we could be spending that same amount of time on the abysmal literacy rates of our students. Let’s focus on all the students in our district and work together to make MNPS better.

Teachers collaborate every day to do what’s best for students. It’s time for organizations, school board members, and district leaders to collaborate to help all of our students.

 

 

Test Scores Are In! How Did Our Nashville Students Do?

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education released TNReady results for individual districts. The data only show results for high schools because elementary and middle schools did not take the full assessment last school year.

For those of you who just want the gist of it, Nashville’s public high schools are struggling to get kids to proficiency, and they’re particularly struggling with math.

Let’s dig a little deeper, using some screenshots from the state’s Report Card website.

ACT Achievement

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I have written previously about the ACT scores of the district. TNReady is trying to be more aligned with the ACT.

Math and ELA Achievement 

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The data show that our high schools are struggling more with math than English language arts (ELA), though each section has only a small percentage of students who are scoring within the top two tiers of TNReady.

Here’s the more in-depth breakdown of the data, including individual subjects. As we see from the graph below, we have new terminology to use when discussing the data.

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The data clearly show that too many high school students are not “on track” nor have achieved mastery of the subjects. We have given our high schools a makeover, but has that makeover really improved the achievement of our students? That will be hard to tell because this is a brand new assessment.

The achievement of high school students are more than just a problem with high schools. We need more support in lower grades to give students the skills they need to achieve in high school so that they can graduate and move on to college or a career.

Growth

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It’s great to see that we are showing growth in literacy, but we have to do better in math.

We Have to Do Better

Our district has to do better. We have too many students not achieving at the level they should be. I hope our school board will really delve into this issue, instead of spending so much time on petty resolutions that will only hurt the district in the long run.

Turning around our district is not something that will make the newspaper tomorrow. It’s not something that you can brag about in your monthly email in a few weeks. Turning around our district takes time, resources, and a vision to help all students achieve. It means that everyone involved in the education system must work together, which can be hard for some.

It’s results like this that draw people away from Davidson county and into the suburbs and private schools. We can’t let it continue.

Let’s get to work!

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


 

The Call For A Charter School Moratorium Lacks Transparency

On Tuesday, the Metro Nashville School Board will vote on a charter school moratorium. The policy proposal is being brought by Will Pinkston. As of Monday morning, language of the resolution has still not been publicly shared on the MNPS website.

Will Pinkston calls for transparency for charter schools, but he should also be held to that same transparency. It’s unacceptable that the meeting is tomorrow, and the citizens of Nashville still can’t access the policy that will be discussed.

Sources within MNPS tell me there is a draft floating around, but language is still not finalized. It seems like this policy is being snuck in at the last moment so that the citizens of Nashville cannot give specific feedback before the vote. That’s not right.

If this is what Nashville wants, why does this resolution have to held in the dark?

Because of the lack of transparency, the Metro Nashville School Board should postpone voting on this moratorium until the people of Nashville can read and respond to it.

While on the issue of a moratorium, it should be noted that having a moratorium will give the State Board of Education more power. I wrote the same thing when Pinkston last tried to change charter school policy:

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

The same is true with the moratorium. A moratorium will give the State Board a bigger hand in approving charter schools in Nashville. Nashville should continue to rigorously review and approve the charter schools that best meets the needs of MNPS.

A flat out moratorium on charter schools is not in the best interest of our Nashville schools or their students.

Update: As of 1:45pm, the resolution has been posted here.  

 

 

Stand For Children Unanimously Cleared

Today, the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance unanimously dismissed two complaints filed against Stand for Children by a group named Tennessee Citizen Action.

It should be noted that fellow TNEdReport blogger, Andy Spears, is the executive director of Tennessee Citizen Action.

The complaints alleged illegal coordination between Stand for Children and four school board candidates: Thom Druffel, Jane Grimes Meneely, Jackson Miller, and Miranda Christy. The Registry unanimously dismissed those allegations because there was no evidence for them.

Dark Money or Charter Schools?

But were these complaints really against “dark money” as Tennessee Citizen Action claimed or more about charter schools? Sources who attended the press conference after the hearing stated that Gerard Stranch, attorney for Tennessee Citizen Action, brought up how Stand for Children wanted to bring more charter schools to Nashville. These school board candidates weren’t even calling for more charter schools.

The complaint had nothing to do with charter schools, so it was surprising to hear that’s what Tennessee Citizen Action’s legal counsel wanted to discuss. On Twitter, Stranch believes “pro charter folks” are treated differently by the bipartisan registry.

This was about the fight for charter schools disguised as a campaign against dark money. And Tennessee Citizen Action lost overwhelmingly.

Political Payback

It should be noted that anyone can file a complaint through the Registry. While the Registry can only hand down civil penalties, Nashville School Board member Will Pinkston told Stand for Children’s Nashville Director Daniel O’Donnell on Twitter: “Post election, we’re talking about your orange jumpsuit.”

Will Pinkston is advocating and hoping for the jailing of his political opponent. I feel like we are back in the presidential campaign.

Of course Will Pinkston knew (I would hope) that this was only a civil matter, but Pinkston wanted to make this complaint look more than it really was. The press went out of their way to cover these hearings as huge breaking news, with the Tennessean using large breaking news banners to discuss each hearing.

Early on in the Registry’s process, a commissioner said that they thought there wasn’t enough evidence to go on, but allowed Stand for Children more time to make a defense. If you ever look at the Registry’s monthly agenda, you will see there are so many cases in front of the Registry at one time. The media picked up on this one and really ran with it.

Everything is Rigged

After the unanimous decision by bipartisan Registry, Andy Spears called the Registry “rigged” because they did not vote the way he wanted them to. Is the system rigged when it doesn’t go your way?

We just finished an election where Trump said everything was rigged…until it went his way, and it wasn’t rigged anymore.

The bigger implication is when you have a coordinated effort against a group of candidates, it may discourage others from running. Even though there was no evidence of law breaking, these candidates had to retain legal counsel. Try talking a middle class parent into running for school board if there is a chance you will need a lawyer. Miranda Christy says it best:

Our city needs good people to step up and throw their hat in the ring without having to worry whether they might have to hire a lawyer or whether they might have to publicly endure false accusations of wrongdoing.

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

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,


 

TFA Donates $1.3 Million Worth of Printers to MNPS

Wow! Teach For America has donated $1.3 million worth of HP printers to MNPS. That’s a lot of printers for teachers to use! From the MNPS blog:

On Oct. 10 2016, Teach for America announced that they would be donating $1.3 million worth of printers from Hewlett Packard (HP) to Metro Nashville Public Schools. Why? To help offset the amount of out-of-pocket spending that teachers do every school year.

“Across the district, our children will benefit directly from this donation, which provides essential educational tools to boost student achievement,” said Ken Stark, executive officer for operations of Metro Schools. “We thank Hewlett Packard and Teach for America for their support.”

According to Time magazine, a report from the Education Market Association says that on average, teachers spend around $500 on supplies for their classrooms, with one in 10 spending $1,000 or more. Teach for America arranged the donation from HP to reinforce the resources needed in Metro schools every day.

Printers started being delivered to every Metro school on Oct. 10, 2016.

“We are grateful for the incredible investment HP has made to better the educational opportunities of thousands of public school children throughout the Greater Nashville area,” said Ben Schumacher, Teach for America-Greater Nashville Executive Director.

Teach for America has been a partner of Metro Schools since 2009, working to close the opportunity gap for students in low-income communities. Today, 670 Teach for America alumni call Nashville home, with 75 percent of those working full-time in education. Others are working in education policy or for education technology companies like GoNoodle and LiveSchool.

“Collaboration is critical for advancement, and we are thankful for our partnerships with HP and Metro Schools, to name a few,” said Shumacher. “Our collective investments allow us to serve more Nashville students and prepare them for success beyond high school graduation.”

Thanks to HP and TFA for the printers!

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