Will Pinkston Creates A Hostile Workplace

The Tennessean is out today with an article about Will Pinkston’s abusive behavior to workers of MNPS. Here’s just a taste of what the article has laid out:

  • Alan Coverstone, former Director of Charter Schools said that Pinkston “threatened me saying I had better watch myself, and eventually saying that I had better barricade myself in the office because he would come up there and get me.”
  • Former Director of Schools Jesse Register received complaints from staff about calls, emails, and in person confrontations with Will Pinkston.
  • A handful of current or former employees of MNPS were too scared to go on the record for risk of retribution from Will Pinkston. One staff member said that Will Pinkston would throw you under the bus if he didn’t get his way.
  • After Jason Egly, a MNPS teacher at the time, got into an discussion on twitter, Egly’s principal and district officials approach him to talk about it after Pinkston reported him to the central office. Egly was afraid for his job.
  • Vesia Hawkins, the former board administrator for over six years, requested another assignment because of Will Pinkston. Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins through direct messages on Twitter after she left her board administrator role. Board Chair Sharon Gentry had to tell Pinkston:“Unless you have a business reason to contact her or any MNPS employee, your contact should be with the Director of Schools.” The night after that email from Gentry, Pinkston continued to contact Hawkins.

These are just the few brave people who spoke on the record about their experiences with Will Pinkston. I have heard from other teachers and staffers who are too afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing their jobs. This isn’t bullying, this is abusive.

It’s not just bullying when Will Pinkston tells a staff member to barricade himself in an office because he is coming for him. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when teachers are afraid of losing their job. That’s abusive.

It’s not just bullying when a staff member has to change jobs because of Will Pinkston. That’s abusive.

When elected officials in Nashville stand by Will Pinkston, they are enabling this abusive behavior. No one deserves this abuse.

Timing of Amy Frogge’s Town Hall Questioned

Questions have arisen about the timing of an official town hall hosted by Amy Frogge. With early voting already starting, Amy Frogge will host an official MNPS town hall about bringing a new high school to Bellevue.

The discussion of a new high school has been a campaign platform for both Amy Frogge and Thom Druffel, and her support for a new school is listed on a campaign direct mail piece that also invites people out for her town hall.

While allowed under law, Amy Frogge has invited people to this town hall through her campaign email account and through direct mail paid with campaign funds. By holding an official town hall event during early voting, is this event more of a campaign event to help Amy Frogge in the upcoming election?

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It’s similar to what State Senator Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) is doing by using over $30,000 dollars in state money to send out constituent mail over the past few months. While both Frogge and Dickerson are allowed to use government funds in this way, it does not look good from the outside.

Bellevue residents who have been to many of these high school proposal events in the past were never contacted about this event, even though they have left their contact information at each event they attended.

The invite states that the Mayor’s Office, Metro Schools, Metro Parks, Metro Planning, and MTA will be in attendance at the event.

Metro Nashville Public Schools will have representatives from the Student Assignment & Planning Department and the Construction Department at the town hall. MTA will be sending sending staffers to the event.

When reached, the Mayor’s Office stated they were invited a few weeks ago by Councilmember Sheri Weiner, but that they do not believe anyone will be available for the event. The Metro Planning department will also not be at the event after a special meeting was called for the Planning Commission.

From the outside, this looks shady.

Update: 7/20: Metro Parks will not be attending the event. 

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


 

Jackson Miller’s Ex-Wife Speaks Out and Endorses Miller

The race for the District 7 school board seat is one of the toughest fought races in Nashville.

It has included the Tennessean saying that Will Pinkston will use his power to “bully, demean and intimidate critics and adversaries” while they also said that Jackson Miller’s “court filings on child support stemming from a messy divorce, and past crass, sometimes hostile tweets” played a role in their endorsement process.

Social media is full of reports on Jackson Miller’s divorce. The screen shots of his divorce proceeding have been happily spread by Miller’s opponents on social media.  

Miller’s campaign has released a video endorsement from Miller’s ex-wife, Sabrina, who is a District 7 resident.

In the video, Sabrina discusses how these attacks have hurt their kids.

View the video and transcript below.

My ex-husband, Jackson Miller, is running for District 7 school board, and my kids are extremely proud of him — and I think they should be. I didn’t really intend to get involved in this race, but what started to happen is that personal and private details of our divorce — things that I don’t think have any bearing on this election — have been publicized and so it’s really impacted my kids. It’s really hurt them.

And so I felt like I needed to say something: and that is that I support Jackson. I think that throughout this campaign, he’s stayed positive and he’s shown the things that he can do and will do for the community, and for the kids, and for the schools. And I think that integrity is what we need in office. I, like many voters, think that how somebody runs their campaign really reflects their character, whether they win or lose.

So when someone decides to drag another person’s family through the mud in order to win, I just question their integrity. I’m a District 7 mom who wants the best for my kids, and I think the best choice here is Jackson.


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.


 

 

Questar Picked as New Testing Vendor

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

What’s new?

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

What is Questar?

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

See below for the full release:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

Ten Years of TFA in Memphis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

Nashville Chamber’s SuccessPAC Endorses in School Board Race

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

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

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

The endorsed candidates are:

District 1: Sharon Gentry

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

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

District 3: Jane Grimes Meneely

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

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

District 5: Christiane Buggs & Miranda Christy

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

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

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

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

District 7: No endorsement

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

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

District 9: Thom Druffel

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

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

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


 

 

400 Attend Nashville Rise Forum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nashville Rise Fights Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

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

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

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

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

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

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