Abrupt Departure

The Superintendent of Union County Schools resigned in the middle of a meeting this week amid a discussion of bullying in the system’s schools.

WBIR of Knoxville has the story:

The superintendent of the Union County school system abruptly resigned Thursday during a board meeting after parents approached the panel to speak about ongoing issues related to bullying at some schools.

“I just want to say this,” said Dr. James Carter during the meeting, after several parents approached the board during a public comment session. “I resign effective immediately.”

The Board members immediately met in executive session and appointed one of their own to serve as Director of Schools in an interim capacity.

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Performative Paperwork

14th District State House candidate Amanda Collins calls Gov. Bill Lee’s recent executive order on gun violence “performative paperwork.”

Lee issued the order in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. He also indicated in an interview with Chalkbeat that he’s open to arming teachers.

The actual order offers nothing new in terms of guns and school safety and instead:

Encourages parents, families and the local community to engage in school safety and partner with law enforcement 

Directs Tennessee state agencies to provide additional guidance to help local school districts (LEAs) implement existing school safety law

Updates the state School Safety Plan Template for LEAs

Surely, some more guidance and an updated template will make schools significantly safer, right?

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Lee Open to Arming Teachers

Gov. Bill Lee indicated this week that he’s open to legislation that would arm Tennessee teachers in the wake of the most recent school shooting in Uvalde, TX.

Lee made the remarks in an interview with Chalkbeat.

Q: After the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, several Tennessee lawmakers proposed letting some teachers carry guns at school. The bills generally stalled, but there’s talk again of turning some teachers into armed security guards. Would you support such legislation?

A: I have said before that I would be in favor of a strategy that includes training and vetting and a very strategic and appropriate plan for (arming teachers). There are a lot of details that have to be right for that to be considered. But if lawmakers brought it forth, I would certainly consider it.

In related news, a group of pastors this week delivered a letter to Lee’s office calling for action to curb gun violence.

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TISA: What’s it All About?

The Tennessee General Assembly passed Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding reform plan this past legislative session. The new scheme, TISA, will take effect in the 2023-24 school year.

What does TISA mean for local school districts? How will it impact the schools in your district?

A group known as “Tennessee for All” is holding a virtual forum on June 16th to explore these questions.

Here’s what they have to say about TISA:

Whether we’re from Nashville or Kingsport, we all want our kids to have a great education. And yet, while our state government hands out millions of dollars to corporations and sits on billions in reserves, this new education plan locks in underfunding for nearly every school. It picks winners and losers, forcing some counties to pay higher property taxes to close the funding gap.

In short, they’re not fans. However, the forum will be a great opportunity to learn more about just how TISA impacts funding.

Here’s more background on the reality of TISA:

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Turns Out, TNReady Still Isn’t

The spectacular failure that is Tennessee’s statewide testing system for students (TNReady) just continues to fail. So much so that when districts announce that TNReady scores won’t be factored into student grades yet AGAIN, it’s not even a major news story.

Sure, the state pays in excess of $100 million for the test and yes, teachers are evaluated based on the results, but the test is a colossal waste of time year after year after year.

Here’s a recent announcement from Sumner County Schools about this year’s test scores:

Dear Parents,

Earlier this week, we were informed by the Tennessee Department of Education that the TNReady scores for third, fourth and fifth grade were incorrect for several elementary schools and were scored again by the state. The new scores were not returned before final report cards were sent home on Thursday. TNReady scores for grades 6–8 were received 3.5 school days before report cards were issued.State law requires TNReady testing to count a minimum of 15% of a student’s grade. School Board Policy 4.600 states that in the event of testing modifications by the state, such as a delay in scores being returned to the district, Sumner County Schools can waive the 15% TNReady grade. Due to this issue in testing, we will not include the TNReady score in your student’s final report card. Your student’s grade will be calculated by averaging the final grade from the first and second semester.In the fall, you will receive your child’s full TNReady scores

And here’s a notice from Metro Nashville Public Schools about TNReady:

I’m sure similar notices went out in other districts across the state.

So, the state spends millions on the test, schools spend hours prepping for it, students spend days taking the exams, and then — NOTHING. No score that is useful for grades, no return of data in a timely fashion.

In fact, TNReady has failed so often and in so many ways, the clown show is now just accepted as an annual rite of passage. We’ll give the test because the state can’t imagine NOT testing every year and then we’ll fully expect there to be one or several problems. A surprising TNReady year would be one in which there were no problems with administration AND the results came back on time.

It’s bad public policy when the bare minimum acceptable outcome IS the surprising outcome. Alas, that’s the case with TNReady.

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Stop Saying Nothing Has Changed Since Sandy Hook

The following is a guest post by Greg O’Loughlin

We teachers are hearing and feeling this news differently than most. If you are a teacher and you are feeling like this is all hitting more acutely, please know that you’re not imagining it. The shock and trauma of it all is shared by anyone who hears of the horror that is our national nightmare of gun violence compounded by politicians and leaders who seemingly live with acceptable levels of slaughtered children. But for us – we who hold other peoples’ children in our hearts, we who see other people’s children in our dreams, we who carry other people’s children in our minds when we eat, walk, or try against all odds to take a break, events like yesterday’s impact us differently. 

We can picture ourselves in the classroom, in the hallways, hiding in our closets with our students. We refresh our memories of the countless active shooter drills we do during inservice and throughout the school year. We wonder how we would/will react if/when the unspeakable happens. We know these feelings and have the muscle memory of these actions more than anyone else in society. We who chose majors because we wanted to help kids learn how to decode, add, research, and create. We who chose jobs that do not pay enough for the work listed in the job description, let alone pay enough for work that’s actually needed to get the job done. We who chose jobs that include coaching our kids through heartbreaks, runny noses, embarrassing moments, celebrations, crises, and loss. Those are our kids. 

We feel differently about this than people who didn’t make similar choices. It hurts more. It’s scarier. 

Teachers, we are not alone, and it is OK to feel like there’s something missing. There is something missing. The respect for the lives of the children we teach. Love for the humanity of the students we help grow. Acknowledgement of the role teachers play in development of safety in the hearts and minds of children that then gets shattered due to the actions of murderers, made easier by the actions of leaders who make access to assault weapons even easier, access to mental health and healthcare even harder, and inaction of leaders who wait for things to blow over. There is not a correct way to feel right now. 

In response to previous slaughter of school children, the nation and our schools were stunned into circles, reflection, and extra access to therapists and counselors. Our leaders have failed us to such a degree that such slaughter is no longer unique enough to provide such essential emotional support. So again, in the face of a systemic failure to provide teachers with what they need to complete the task at hand, we’ll need to dig deep. We’ll need to seek support and resources from our colleagues, friends, family, and one another. We are left to create the supports our students need to explore their feelings and fears about the ways in which our leaders have let us down and failed to protect us. 

What has become clear is that no one is coming to save us. Politicians who are empowered to make change that might stop this slaughter of our children are either incapable or unwilling to take action for countless reasons: an unwillingness to upset their donors, an unwillingness to take risks, an unwillingness to give the enemy a ‘weapon’ to use during midterms – none of those address the fear or stop the bleeding.

In the months and years after the Sandy Hook massacre teachers experienced a seismic shift in our practices, work, and behaviors in school settings. In addition to the planning, instruction, assessment, and analysis of decoding, research, and addition, we had to learn how to barricade doors with our classroom chairs and desks. (We learned which chairs made it harder to open the door from the outside). We had to learn how to stop bullet holes from bleeding with tampons. (We made jokes about it in the hopes that it would help make the experience less bleak). We had to learn how to dress wounds. We had to learn how to keep our children quiet while an admin playing the part of a gunman stalked the halls and tried to overcome our barricades. We had to keep an emergency kit of gloves, tourniquets, bandages, and blood-stopper well stocked. Surely, we thought, lockdown drills were a temporary measure while leadership figured out a plan to stop the massacre of children. The last 10 years have demonstrated that it is not the case, that there is an acceptable number of slaughtered children before action might be taken by politicians and people whose job it is to regulate the threats to our safety and the safety of children. That there is an acceptable amount of the blood of kids before anyone else will do anything. Because to be clear: teachers did do something. 

Teachers changed the way we taught, changed the way we talked, changed the way we did our seating charts, changed the way our windows looked, changed the way our doors looked, changed the way we spoke about violence, changed the way we spoke about what to do in very scary situations, changed the way we addressed the notion of murder with children, and so much more. Teachers acted swiftly and immediately to address the trauma inflicted upon us and upon our students by both gun violence and by ineffectual leadership that lacks initiative, creativity or willpower. So, let’s be clear: it is not that there was no action in response. Teachers acted swiftly, decisively, and in ways that were traumatic and effective.

We are all we have. Isolation, disconnection, dismemory, a sense of powerlessness reinforced by talking heads and mealy-mouthed editorials all serve the forces that seek to make this murder of children another headline and another news cycle. We can make efforts to slow it down by connecting with our neighbors, by connecting with our colleagues, by reducing isolation, and by working together. If you are not yet a member of your teacher’s union or association, you should become one now. If you are not yet a member of a professional organization that meets regularly to check in on your health and well-being you should join one now. If you are not spending time with your colleagues to address the ways in which you can help each other through times of celebration as well as times of trauma you should do so now. It is yet again us who are devising and creating solutions to the problems caused by the failure of leadership and a system that cares more about test scores and money than the humanity of ourselves and of our students. No one is coming to save us, and we’re better together.

Greg O’Loughlin is a teacher and the founding Director of The Educators’ Cooperative (EdCo), an independent nonprofit that serves as a mutual aid network of support, development, and resources for and by ALL teachers. Learn more about him and the work of EdCo at www.educatorscooperative.org

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Teacher Pay Raises in Dickson County

While the Dickson County School Board has submitted a proposed budget featuring $1500 raises for teachers, at least one County Commissioner has floated the idea of $5000 raises – at an additional cost of $3.5 million in a $70 million budget.

The Tennessean has more:

Dickson County teachers are already getting a $1,500 raise in the proposed school district budget, which was presented by Schools Director Dr. Danny Weeks in budget committee meetings this month.

During the review, County Commissioner Jeff Eby suggested moving the teacher raises to $5000.

Eby then suggested $5,000 raises for all teachers, which he estimated to cost about $3.5 million. 

It was pointed out the County Commission cannot make line-item adjustments to the school system’s budget. They can, however, send the budget back to the School Board with suggested revisions.

Mayor Bob Rial said the budget increase for a $5,000 raise would equate to a 25-cent property tax increase in Dickson County. 

The move in Dickson County comes during budget season and at a time when other middle Tennessee districts are raising teacher pay.

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Vouchers Strike Back?

On the surface, it would seem Gov. Bill Lee and his commitment to a statewide voucher scheme for Tennessee scored a huge victory yesterday when the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in a 3-2 decision that Lee’s ESA voucher plan does NOT violate the “Home Rule” Amendment of the Tennessee Constitution.

Here’s the deal: While the loss on the Home Rule Amendment is a definite blow to public school advocates, there are MORE issues at play here.

Here’s what a press release from the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts has to say about yesterday’s ruling:

The Tennessee Supreme Court granted Defendants’ applications for permission to appeal. Because it is an interlocutory appeal, the issues before the Court were limited to the constitutionality of the ESA Act under the Home Rule Amendment and Plaintiffs’ standing to bring that challenge. The Supreme Court agreed with both the trial court and the Court of Appeals that Plaintiffs Metro and Shelby County had standing to bring their Home Rule Amendment Claim. However, the Supreme Court, after reviewing the applicable constitutional language, held that the ESA Act is not rendered unconstitutional by the Home Rule Amendment because the Act is not “applicable to” the Plaintiff counties for purposes of the Amendment. The majority concluded that the ESA Act is not applicable to the Plaintiff counties because the Act regulates or governs the conduct of the local education agencies and not the counties. Thus, the Act does not violate the Home Rule Amendment. The Supreme Court therefore affirmed, in part, and reversed, in part, the judgment of the Court of Appeals and remanded the case to the trial court for the dismissal of the Home Rule Amendment claim and for consideration of Plaintiffs’ remaining claims.

“Consideration of remaining claims.”


So, the plaintiffs lost on the Home Rule Amendment in a narrow, 3-2 ruling. While I may not agree with that interpretation of Home Rule, as it relates to vouchers, this is not a “death blow” per se.

There are “other issues.” The plaintiffs will now have to revisit their case as it relates to other claims relative to the harms or potential harms of vouchers.

This ruling does NOT mean that Bill Lee and Penny Schwinn can just go all out on vouchers.

Instead, it means that lower courts will hear evidence on claims related to vouchers.

Was the Home Rule Amendment the home run in terms of defeating vouchers? Yes! Seeing vouchers as unconstitutional in this light was the easiest, fastest way to defeat a voucher scheme.

Was it the ONLY way that vouchers would lose in court? Not at all.

Remember, the ESA scheme as concocted in 2019, applies only to Memphis and Nashville. There are a range of legitimate claims that could serve to halt the negative impact of a voucher scheme.

A trial court may now have to hear evidence and make a decision on those claims.

Bottom line: This is NOT a green light for Lee’s voucher plan.

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Is That All?

Memphis-Shelby County Schools has a new budget proposal that offers teachers a 2% raise plus a $1500 retention bonus.

While this sounds nice – it IS more money, it really begs the question: Is that all?

Chalkbeat has more on the details of the nearly $2 billion budget proposal:

Memphis-Shelby County Schools teachers would receive a 2% pay raise and $1,500 retention bonuses as part of the $1.93 billion proposed budget approved by school board members Tuesday.

Fulfilling Superintendent Joris Ray’s promises earlier this year to invest in educators, the 2022-23 budget would also funnel nearly $12 million into educators’ tiered pay scale and add a new step on the scale for principals.

The budget, passed on a 5-0 vote, also directs $3.5 million to bump up the district’s contribution to employee health insurance premiums to 70% from 66%, and $3 million to raises for substitute teachers. 

While a 2% raise and a $1500 salary increase are nice moves, that’s simply not enough.

It’s unfortunate that Bill Lee’s TISA plan and current funding scheme aren’t dedicating more to public schools We currently have a surplus in excess of $3 billion at the state level and yet still struggle to fund public schools.

It’s a matter of priorities.

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Wilson County Proposes New Pay Scale

The Wilson County School Board approved a proposed budget that includes a move away from teacher pay based on test scores. According to the plan, all teachers will receive at least a $500 raise in the upcoming school year.

The Wilson Post has more on the story:

“We took the plans we’re competing with, laid them down and came out with something we can have in our budget,” he (Director of Schools Jeff Luttrell) said, noting that the district has budgeted $3.4 million in employee raises, with the majority going to classroom teachers.

He said, “one of the things I’ve heard and believe is that pay does not need to be tied to one day of testing. This takes us off that plan.”

The current Wilson County pay scale is based on teacher “level of effectiveness” (LOE) as determined by evaluations and state test scores.

Yes, THOSE scores – the ones based on TNReady.

It’s interesting that the projected pay increase is relatively small ($500) and that the overall funding for salary improvement is just over $3 million.

By contrast, neighboring Sumner County seems likely to commit $18 million this year to a pay increase that will mean a $4000+ raise for all teachers.

It’s also noteworthy that Gov. Bill Lee’s school funding plan (TISA) is unlikely to actually provide significant new state funds to boost teacher pay across the board.

It is definitely positive that Wilson County is moving away from a pay for test score model – that is a step in the right direction.

It’s likely frustrating to educators (and the one School Board member who opposed the move – a former educator) that the plan is not a more significant move in the direction of raising pay.

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