Will Pinkston on the Nashville Chamber Education Report Card

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston had this to say about yesterday’s release of the Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card:

After digesting the news accounts of yesterday’s 2016 Education Report Card staged by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, I am more convinced than ever that the Chamber is an enemy of public education — and frankly, it has been for a long time. Consider this passage in Nashville Public Radio’s report, taken directly from the Chamber Report Card: “Over the past two decades, Metro Schools has launched various district reading and literacy initiatives, with no discernible impact on overall reading results.” This is true. However, this line could easily be rewritten to read: “Over the past two decades, the Chamber has meddled constantly in the affairs of Metro Nashville Public Schools, with no discernible impact on overall results.”

The reality is: The last two directors of MNPS — Jesse Register (2009-15) and Pedro Garcia (2001-08) — were the Chamber’s hand-picked superintendents who presided over stagnant growth in reading proficiency and, in Register’s case, a proliferation of struggling schools and lack of innovation to assist English learners, who represent the fastest-growing segment of our student population. I know this because I serve Nashville School Board District 7, where 43% of our students are struggling to learn English. Our lack of progress in helping these kids was a big reason why I led the charge in 2014 to exit Register from the school system and install new management that can think and act strategically.

What was the Chamber’s response? Not surprisingly, the Chamber did not step forward and agree that a leadership change was needed at MNPS. To the contrary, the Chamber and its rubber-stamp Report Card Committee instead attacked me and other board members who actually were confronting problems, versus turning a blind eye to the situation. The fact is the Chamber, through its lack of understanding of public education and lack of leadership in this community, helped to enable poor-performing superintendents for the better part of two decades — while at the same time trying, mostly ineffectively, to destabilize the school board in local elections. Adding insult to injury, the Chamber has advocated to strip the school board of local control while vigorously endorsing vouchers and the unabated growth of charter schools, which drain finite resources at a time when MNPS is now universally considered to be an under-funded school system. If the Chamber and the Report Card Committee aren’t happy with the lack of progress, perhaps they should take a look in the mirror and do some soul-searching. I daresay they won’t see any profiles in courage.

All that said: I’m optimistic that MNPS is finally headed in the right direction. This year, the school board exerted overdue independence and sidelined the Chamber during the search for our new MNPS director. In typical passive-aggressive fashion, Chamber leaders pouted throughout the months-long search process, then tried to take credit for the favorable outcome, and then attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to oust from elected office one-third of the school board — members who played key roles in ushering in the new leadership. Our new director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, now is doing yeoman’s labor getting his arms around years of problems that have been either created or exacerbated by the Chamber. Thankfully, the Mayor, the Metro Council, and the school board are finally on the same page. We’re all working together to lead public education forward, no thanks to the Chamber.

So now let me send the same message to Ralph Schulz and the Chamber that I sent to former Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels (whose sycophantic and obsequious support of the Chamber helped perpetuate some of this mess): MNPS is going to succeed despite you, not because of you. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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.

You’ve Been Warned

MNPS Board Members Will Pinkston and Christiane Buggs wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal Constitution urging voters in Georgia to reject that state’s effort to create an Opportunity School District modeled after Tennessee’s struggling Achievement School District.

Here’s some of what they had to say:

Under this hostile approach, the ASD rips schools from their communities and hands them over to charter operators that convert them into taxpayer-subsidized private schools. Rather than sticking to a limited scope with a baker’s dozen schools, as originally envisioned, the ASD now has nearly 30 schools in its purview — and it’s expanding every year in ill-advised ways.

They also pointed to a recent Vanderbilt study to note the ASD’s lack of results:

If the ASD actually was working, some of it might be defensible. But research by Vanderbilt University shows the ASD is failing. The online news outlet Chalkbeat recently reported that a locally led school-turnaround initiative in Memphis has “sizable positive effects on student test scores, while the ASD’s effects are marginal.”

Tennessee’s ASD came about as a result of legislative approval of the (ultimately winning) Race to the Top application. As Buggs and Pinkston note, in its current form, the ASD has moved beyond the original vision. In doing so, the ASD has encountered problems that include troubling audit findings and a struggle to demonstrate results.

Georgia voters get to weigh-in on whether or not their state creates an ASD clone. Buggs and Pinkston offer a cautionary tale of well-intentioned reform gone wrong.

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This policy proposal should be voted down.

TNDP’s Mary Mancini Calls Pinkston’s Comments Unacceptable

After Holly McCall’s allegations of threats from Will Pinkston and the response by Will Pinkston calling her a “sleeze” and unfit for public office, Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini called his comments unacceptable:

“Bullying behavior from anyone is unacceptable anytime and anywhere and it is especially unacceptable from elected officials and leaders in our community.

Will Pinkston has brought a notable level of intelligence and hard work to the Metro Nashville Board of Education and it’s clear that he cares tremendously about the quality of the city’s public education. That said, disrespectful language and behavior from elected officials and leaders in our community is always unacceptable.

It’s unfortunate for all involved that Will did not use better judgement in both his public and private interactions.”

Facts Not Included

Steve Cavendish at the Scene offers some insight into the Tennessean’s recent dealings with MNPS board member Will Pinkston. Specifically, Cavendish notes that key facts seem to be optional in the paper’s reporting.

He writes:

That Sunday story by Jason Gonzales, which described Pinkston as a bully, interviewed a lot of critics. It quoted a former director of schools that Pinkston stopped from getting a contract extension, an innovation director who routinely fought with Pinkston and other board members and a paid political operative working for (Jackson) Miller.

And points out that the Tennessean also endorsed Pinkston, a fact not mentioned in the Gonzalez piece.

Of course, on the same day, the Tennessean did allow Pinkston to respond.

But, as Cavendish points out, it would have been a lot easier to just include the relevant facts in the first place.

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

 

Holly McCall: Pinkston Told Me He Has a Kill List of MNPS Staff

Update: Will Pinkston has responded to Holly McCall’s accusations by tweeting that McCall “is a known sleeze and unfit to serve in public office.”

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Many Tennesseans do not believe that, though. In her legislative race, McCall recently raised $54,000 in one of the most conservative districts in the state.

Who is funding her campaign? The top democratic leaders in the state:

Franklin Mayor Lillian Stewart ($200) and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean ($500); state Rep. John Ray Clemmons ($250) and state Sens. Lee Harris ($150) and Sara Kyle ($150); Nashville Metro Council members Bob Mendes ($350) and John Cooper, and his wife Laura ($1,500 each, for both the primary and general, for a total of $6,000); attorneys Charles Bone ($1,000), James Yokley ($1,500), Bob Tuke ($250), Leigh Walton ($250), Aubrey Harwell ($250), David Garrison ($250) and Chase Cole ($250).

Others backing McCall include Planned Parenthood’s Jeff Teague ($250), and local business leaders Wayne Smith of Community Health Systems ($1,000; CHS also donated $1,000), developer Bert Mathews ($250), former AT&T president Marty Dickens ($1,000), Christopher Hopkins of the developer-friendly Saint Consulting ($1,250) for which McCall has worked, Medalogix CEO Dan Hogan ($700) and Elizabeth Schatzlein, the wife of the former CEO of Saint Thomas Health ($1,500).

Looks like they don’t believe she is unfit for public office.

Original story below:

Holly McCall, who is currently a Democratic candidate for TN House District 65, has responded to the Tennessean story on Will Pinkston by saying that Will Pinkston allegedly told her that he had a kill list of MNPS employees while pointing at his forehead.

 

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Below are other tweets Holly McCall has sent out today about being threatened, scared, and how she feels like she is hurting her chances for office by taking on a candidate backed by the Democratic Party. As you will see below, she doesn’t live in Nashville or support charter schools.

 

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Holly McCall has uploaded a screen shot from the latest texts from Pinkston. She also says that Pinkston has been threatening her for six months.

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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.