Interview an Innovator

Delight Ejiaka, a student at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, tells the story of an interesting internship made possible through her school and the Global Innovators Academy.

1) How did you discover Global Innovators Academy?
I was looking for an internship that would allow me to build my communications skills and expand my network, so I decided to utilize my professional social media accounts. Kevin Anselmo connected on social media, exchanged emails and had a couple of conversations. He explained to me the Interview an Innovator course concept: students doing an interview with a professional and writing an article based on that discussion which would then be published online. I was excited to come aboard with the program. 

2) What made you interested in this project?I am currently an international student studying Digital Media and Creative Writing. I plan to use my degree to work in marketing communications and write for film and TV. Because of my status as a newbie in the US (I am from Nigeria), I didn’t know a lot of people in any of the fields I wanted to go into. I wanted to reach out to people in related fields, but I had never done this in a deliberate and strategic way. As part of the Interview an Innovator course experience, I connected to Casey Adams, the Communications Director of the American Heart Association in Philadelphia. I connected to her and published a great article about her journey. In the process of learning important communications skills and connecting with Casey, I also was introduced to some people in her network as well. 

3) How did the work with Global Innovators compare to your other college work?In the classroom, a lot of the work I did was preparing for theoretical events. You learn how to write proposals and a host of other things. This experience actually just helped me apply my learning to achieve my goal of building an organic connection with professionals in my prospective career path. For example: the program provides video lectures that guide students through the experience. It doesn’t just stop there, it provides the opportunity to put the writing and communication skills students  gather from the videos into immediate practice. This is something that traditional schools sometimes forget. Learning must be put to practical use to have an impact.

4) Describe your project, the outcome, and what you learned?I reached out to a lot of communication and marketing professionals via email and LinkedIn. Some of them did not reply the first time. I decided to be persistent and try again. I reached out to Casey Adams, a couple times before she could get back to me because of her busy schedule. We set up a time and had a great conversation that absolutely challenged me and gave me material for my article. I have learned a great deal about persistence through this program. It is terrific that I have an article that is published online and that is featured on my LinkedIn profile. I think this makes me appear more marketable, as opposed to the LinkedIn profiles many students have that don’t really show any type of substantive work. 

5) Would you recommend Global Innovators to your fellow students at Lee and elsewhere? Absolutely. Every college student is currently thinking about how to grow their network so that they can secure opportunities that will drive their future. This program exposes you to a variety of people who could potentially become pilots in your career journey which makes it very applicable for all students.

6) Do you see applications for this type of learning in a k-12 environment. Building a mutually beneficial and strong network of supportive individuals that inform and direct your career journey takes time and it’s important to start as soon as possible. Studies have shown that students who have a strong network – social capital – are predisposed to higher chances of career success and fulfillment. On the other hand, most schools are currently moving to virtual instruction and this can be a great opportunity to provide students with practical real life experiences.

Read the article Delight wrote here>

Delight

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Changing School Culture

Bethany Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee offers this insight from school leader Ryan Jackson:

Perhaps the foremost expert on changing school culture in Tennessee is Dr. Ryan Jackson. People from across the country have taken notice of the amazing turn around he has done at Mt. Pleasant PreK-12 School in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee. Ryan Jackson is beginning his 3rd year at Mt. Pleasant School in Maury County, and the culture shift that he has instigated is nothing short of amazing. We wanted a deeper probe of what he was doing, so his methods could be replicated.

In 2016, when Ryan Jackson first came to Mt. Pleasant School, it had a negative stigma attached to it. He immediately realized that the school lacked an identity. Being a firm believer in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, he realized he needed to create a sense of belonging. The first thing he did was create ‘The Mount.’ More specifically, #TheMount which was strategic for a couple of reasons. Jackson relays, “One, it side-stepped the stigma. This was new. Some people thought it was like putting lipstick on a pig. But it did create a psychological shift. ‘We are The Mount’, not the old Mt. Pleasant and everything you thought about Mt. Pleasant before July 2016 has just changed including how we identify ourselves.” He continued, “It was more than just a rally cry; it was the beginning of this new identity and getting people to see Mt. Pleasant differently so we could one by one, person by person, student by student, teacher by teacher, community member by community member get them to come on board and feel like they belong.” It was not an overnight process but through repetition, constant branding, constant messaging, it was successful.

We have learned, as educators, that if you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell it for you. Ryan Jackson made social media an integral part of the culture shift. He stated, “Social media is a high yield strategy that costs absolutely nothing financially, just a time investment. It gives everyone, but specifically the immediate community, the windows of insight into what’s going on at the school. It gives them a proud thing to hang their hat on that they didn’t have in the past. I wanted them to see the fact that we had seven different CTE programs. We had multiple forms of art being represented. I wanted the community to see some of the cool project-based learning experiences that we had for kids…things that they would not know if they weren’t here on a day to day basis. I wanted the community members to have access into the school day via the social media platform. By doing so, we are getting the attention of more than just the community, but also the state and the nation as well.”

Jackson sees the social media posts as sort of a mini-commercial for his school. The community now sees them as a positive influence and thinks, “Wow, things really are changing [at Mt. Pleasant].” He reiterates, “Not only that, social media gives you the opportunity to highlight teachers, students and programs while reinforcing the belonging. When people have emotional connections to something, they will share it with others. You are literally evangelizing your message, your school.”

The rebranding, done primarily via social media, has also led to grants/partnerships from the community. Jackson attributes the Theater Renovation Grant for $67,000 that they got from Lowe’s to social media branding. These organizations vet the recipients of their grants, and when they google Mt. Pleasant High School, they start to see everything that they’ve done. Jackson reminds us, “No school is perfect, but you want to make sure that daily you are putting in enough credit that when something bad does happen, your credit is so high that there isn’t a negative impact.” They also got a $500,000 grant from Parker Hannifin Corporation with which they built an Innovation Lab. “Any school that is not leveraging social media power is missing an incredible opportunity,” Jackson emphasized.

Jackson admits that grants have assisted in the cultural turn-around by being financial affirmations. “Organizations see their money going to a school as investment which they believe they will see a return on. Those grants help to foster a shift from momentum to inertia. And now we are a school that cannot be stopped.”

Working with educators, we know there are a few who are resistant to change. When asking Jackson how he dealt with those who did not buy into his vision, he stated, “In any organization, there is always going to be the ‘toxic 2%.’ Annually, you’ve got to get rid of the toxic 2% because if you don’t, it can be like cancer and it will spread. Teachers/staff must grow or go. You will have that core group of people who will buy into your vision immediately.”

Ryan describes himself as a strength-finder leader. “We focus on our strengths and talents while managing our weaknesses. We devoted the first year entirely to changing the culture. We didn’t start on changing the curriculum until year two. We lifted people up, building capacity, building, supporting the teacher leaders. Then they took their network and influence to bring over the early majority. We showed wins in grants, school discipline, attendance etc. When you see your school logo on T-shirts at Walmart and RiteAid, the late majority is starting to look at it like ‘Wow, I want to be a part of this thing.’ Now we have buy-in from the early and late majority.”

Changing the school culture has not just changed the school, but it has transformed the community. Mt. Pleasant is a community of about 5200 people. Mt. Pleasant School is sort of a mini school system. Jackson explains, “[The school] has been a catalyst for everything. We have been positioned as the lighthouse for rural development and that starts with education. People are only going to move back to Main Street, America if they think their children have a great shot at an excellent education.”

Jackson continues, “We understood that fundamentally and made sure the city had something they were proud to hang their hat on in terms of their schools. Once we gave them a taste that this could turn out to be something incredible, we saw parental involvement go up. We started to see the community come out for football games and other events. Every 30 days we are showcasing something new and different such as the ‘Tiny House’ project we are working on or a mid-town barbeque festival with the community. Now we have the cooperation with the city government to raise $155,000 to build a Splash Pad for the community. It’s a multitude of things such as building an authentic partnership with city government and its schools so we can do things together that will improve the quality of life. It’s showcasing the programs in such a way that you can get parents and business owners excited about their local schools.”

Not only that, when you create a high-profile buzz with the rest of the country looking at you, it becomes infectious. Jackson proudly brags, “When the folks in Mt. Pleasant, Tennessee hear that people from Palm Beach County, Florida, the 11th largest school district in the nation, are coming to visit to see what we are doing, they can’t argue with success. That is the attitude you have to adopt. The city is starting to feel like a winner again and it is long overdue.” He reiterates, “After you feel like you belong, then you will start feeling efficacious and capable. Then and only then can you transfer to self-actualization, just being your best. Mt. Pleasant’s new business owners are feeling capable. Now let’s give this thing a go because we all feel like we belong.”

When Ryan Jackson was asked what advice he would give to struggling administrators, he said, “First and foremost, be a leader, not a figure-head. You have to be present. People want to see their shepherd – ten toes down leadership. You are in the halls, in the classrooms. You’re engaging the students with fist-bumps, high-fives, ‘how you doing?’ You need to have mini conversations with kids and identify their passions. Get to know your staff on a personal level. For far too long leadership programs have emphasized that being a good manager is where you draw a firm line. I think things have just changed. [As administrators], we have to be smart, we have to be savvy and we have to be professional, but most importantly, we have to be present.”

With all that being said, part of partaking in a cultural shift is to change things. Jackson declares, “Sometimes, you’ve got to disrupt the norm. Be comfortable in being a stimulus for change. Great leaders are comfortable with dissent. You have got to understand that not everybody is going to see things as they should right away. But it is our job as a leader to influence them. Leadership is the art of influencing and you cannot influence people from behind a computer screen. If you are sending emails that are fear-based, that may last for a little bit, but everything is built on relationships. You have to establish those kinds of ground level relationships first.”

Jackson concludes, “It is your job as an administrator to become your biggest evangelist. Share your story. Highlight your success. Don’t be afraid to share some of your struggles or setbacks, because we are all human and fallible. We are looking to learn from our networks. So, you share within your networks- ideas, struggles and celebrations- in an effort to get better together.”

His biggest piece of advice is to “get out of the office, get in the hallways, in the classrooms, in the community. Be present at games and events. Get to know your students on a first name basis. Kids get excited when they know you know who they are and what they are passionate about. That stuff is life-changing; it’s psychological solutions. You can’t put a dollar amount on that.” No school in Tennessee has changed its culture more than ‘The Mount’. This school culture is an example of a strategy that other schools and districts can duplicate.

 

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


 

Interview With Senator Steve Dickerson

dickersonToday, we welcome Senator Steve Dickerson to the blog. Steve Dickerson is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Erin Coleman.

You can read Erin Coleman’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am an anesthesiologist and father of three. My wife and I have lived in Nashville for 20 years. I am running for re-election to continue to expand prospects for Tennesseans to live the American dream. I believe this is accomplished by creating an environment that fosters economic development, enhances educational opportunity and provides government services in an efficient and cost-effective manner. As a city and state, we have made great strides over my first term but there will always be room for improvement. Our best days are ahead of us.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

There is a dynamic relationship between local school boards, local governments, the General Assembly and the federal government. Overall, the General Assembly has a role in aligning curricula with workforce needs; funding and setting overall state standards. There will always be some tension between all of those stakeholders so it is important to have representatives who understand this, will try to build consensus and advocate for good policy.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

I think the best thing we have done is to continue to discuss the importance of education. While virtually everyone would agree as to the key role education plays, over the last several years we have really re-focused on education’s essential contribution to the future of our city and state. As far as specific, tangible policy, the state has increased funding at an unprecedented rate without increasing taxes.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

I believe there is widespread “over-testing.” Recently, the state decreased requirements for standardized testing. While this is a good start, I think we need to continue to look for ways to decrease the volume of testing and the reliance on “high stakes” testing. This process involves LEAs, school boards and the General Assembly and is one of our areas where we all need to work together. I have toured dozens of MNPS schools over my term and the burden of testing and test-preparation has been the most common concern voiced by teachers.

If reelected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

I will support a more nuanced agenda of educational reform. Six years ago, when Governor Haslam took office, there was universal concern over our state’s performance on national tests. As a result, our state undertook an aggressive reform package. Now, it is time to take stock of where we are and how to get where we need to be. I view this somewhat from my perspective as a physician. If a patient is in critical condition, one needs to be aggressive. But, once the patient is stabilized, a more long-term, balanced approach is required. I believe we are at that point in our current wave of education reform. In my first term, I sponsored numerous education bills. Two of note were the “Quality Pre-K Act” and the “Charter Accountability Act.” I will continue to seek these same sort of policies that look for data-driven solutions that are supported by advocates all across the spectrum.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

I have enjoyed a very solid relationship with MNPS over my first term and expect that it will only grow stronger over the next four years. There are three specific actions I will pursue on behalf of MNPS. First, I will be an advocate for MNPS in and out of the General Assembly. I am proud of the work we are doing in Nashville and will make sure everyone knows it. Second, I will continue to sponsor bills on behalf of MNPS. Third, I will continue to look for ways to enhance funding. MNPS has one of the most diverse student populations in the state. This is a strength that adds vibrancy to our city but also entails additional costs.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

I have spent the last four years learning how to build coalitions and I have sponsored bills that have gained support from a wide range of groups and individuals. In my next term, I will continue to seek thoughtful solutions to help enhance educational opportunity for all Tennesseans. For more on my campaign, please visit my website at www.votestevedickerson.com

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


 

 

Interview With Senate Candidate Erin Coleman

colemanToday, we welcome Erin Coleman to the blog. Erin Coleman is currently running for state senate in District 20 against Senator Steve Dickerson.

You can read Steve Dickerson’s interview here.

Can you tell us a little about yourself and why you are running for office?

I am a mother of three young children, a small-business owner, an attorney, and a U.S. Army veteran. Currently, there are no mothers of young children in the Tennessee Senate, and that viewpoint is sorely lacking. The state legislature has gotten sidetracked on wedge issues and bad behavior. The only way to change the culture of the state legislature is to change who serves in the state legislature. Senate District 20 deserves a senator that will put Nashville first. Let us decide issues and stop the state legislature from overriding our wishes every chance they get.

What role should the legislature and the state play in the education system?

The state legislature plays a huge role in funding education, in approving textbooks, in curriculum oversight,and in setting teaching licensure standards. In terms of funding, the state must get the BEP right and ensure that our large urban systems are getting the funding they need, especially for ELL. On the other issues, the legislature should work to ensure that the state is a productive partner with local officials. The state shouldn’t simply dictate to LEA’s. For example, the state should not have the authority to override local decisions on which charter schools are approved and which are not. Local officials are on the ground and know better than the state what is best for their districts.

What is one thing that the state is doing well in regards to the education system?

The state has two primary responsibilities- funding and assessment – and it is doing neither well. Prior to 2011, Tennessee was a national leader in education reform. Due to a lack of leadership, the state has since thrown that away. The responsibility for this failure falls most heavily on the members of the legislature’s Education Committees. They have led the race to the bottom in education in Tennessee.

What is one thing that the state is doing that needs to be changed or improved?

The state should not have the authority to override local decisions on charter schools. Charters have a valuable place in our education system, and locals know best what that place is. We should let our elected school boards do their jobs and keep the state out of it.

If elected, what education policies will you advocate for at the legislature?

Getting the BEP right. In order to thrive, school systems need financial resources. Nashville has a tremendous need for ELL funding. That must be taken into account in the BEP. I will also work to further expand Pre-K. There is no single education investment that can have as much of an impact as quality Pre-K.

How will you support Metro Nashville Public Schools as a state senator?

Over the past year, I have developed strong relationships with our MNPS Board members. I will meet with them regularly to determine their needs and how best I can help them in the Senate. I will also keep an open door for any parent, student, teacher, administrator, or school staffer that wants to talk to me. As a mom to three young children, I know how important a quality education is. In fact, I believe that educating our children is the single most-important thing our government does.

Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add? Where can readers go to find more about your campaign?

Visit erinfornashville.com or facebook.com/erinfornashville or twitter.com/ErinCforSD20 for the latest information about my campaign. This election presents a contrast between two distinct visions of what Nashville and Tennessee should be. I believe that our public education system is an essential building block in our community and it should be fully funded and supported. Our state legislature works to undercut public education at every turn. Unless we change who serves in the General Assembly, that will continue.

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


 

 

An Interview with Allison Chancey

Allison Chancey is the 3rd District Representative on the Tennessee State Board of Education (SBE). She is the only member on the state board who also is a classroom teacher. Mrs. Chancey is a 2nd grade teacher in Bradley County, and is a member of Professional Educators of Tennessee. This article originally appeared in TREND (http://www.trendtn.com), a publication of Professional Educators of Tennessee.

LEADERS IN EDUCATION: ALLISON CHANCEY
Q: On behalf of our members, we thank you for taking time to share with our educators today. Tennessee’s SBOE develops policy and regulation on a wide variety of education topics. How does that work?

A: The State Board of Education meets at least four times a year. Often, we meet more than that as the need arises. We have a well-qualified staff that works hard and presents us with research they have done on current policies and educational topics on our agenda. Their findings are sent to us a week or two before each meeting for us to study and review. Before each board meeting we have a workshop where given items are discussed and questioned as needed. We are very fortunate to have the hardworking staff that we have. The nine board members bring different fields of experience that gives us a broad spectrum of educational needs. As a teacher, I get to present how things are from the front lines of the classroom.

Q: You are currently the only member of the state board of education that has actual classroom teaching experience – how has that experience helped you on the state board?

A: I believe our vice chair, Ms. Carolyn Pearre, at one time was also a classroom teacher. Currently I am the only board member to be teaching in the classroom. As a classroom teacher, I am able to tell how policies and regulations are affecting not only the teachers, but the administrations, students and parents. There are times when an item looks great on paper, although in reality it isn’t in the best interest to those directly involved. An example would be having TVASS scores tie in with teacher licenses. While in theory this looks great, in reality it is not fair to any teacher. I also know how our new standards are affecting our students as well as the parents involved. I basically am able to report firsthand how decisions we make are affecting the classroom.

Q: We made quite a few changes in public education in Tennessee the last decade. Some needed. Some debatable. What are we doing right?

A: We are raising standards and doing a better job of preparing students to be college and career ready. Job expectations are at an all time high, and it is our responsibility to prepare Tennessee students to meet the challenges facing them after high school. Tennessee education is meeting this challenge through the hard work of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. We have done this by adopting higher academic standards, holding teachers more accountable, and requiring students to meet academic gains. I am proud to be a part of the Tennessee team that is raising the bar and showing the nation that Tennessee students are second to none.

Q: In your opinion, what is the top 3 challenges still facing education in Tennessee?

A: The top three challenges still facing education in Tennessee? This is hard to narrow down. I could write a research paper on this! To narrow it down to three I would say time, money, and teacher morale. 1) Time. With all the wonderful updates going on in today’s education, a teacher is finding himself/herself working longer hours than ever to teach in the most effective manner possible. You will find teachers at school early, late in the evenings, and even on the weekends. Those not there you will find working crazy hours at home. We do this because we love our kids. But this has taken away from personal and family time. I don’t believe the average person has any idea how much time most teachers put into their jobs. Also, there is not a moment to spare while the students are with us in the classroom. To get the standards taught takes every second of every day for instruction. This means that time that use to be used to develop relationships with students is often lost
because of the ridged schedule. 2) Money. There never seems to be enough! How does this affect education? You find teachers that are trying to teach 21st century standards in a classroom built in the 1950’s. Technology is a key for student learning, but often is not funded adequately. Teachers who are working harder than ever may not see a pay increase for years. Schools need updating and replacing. 3) Teacher morale. As teachers, we love our jobs. We wouldn’t be here if we didn’t. But we are seeing more and more students that are coming from broken homes, poverty, and abuse. They come to school hungry, tired, and worried. These children desperately need us to be not only their teachers, but someone they can trust and look up to. These kids are held at the same standard as the ones that come from nurturing homes, where parents meet their emotional and physical needs. Trying to teach these kids, worrying about test scores, evaluations, and new material creates much stress.
There is little to no support given in many cases.

Q: What are the steps the state and local districts need to take to address the challenges you identified? And what impact will that have on classroom teachers?

A: What steps need to be taken? Funding education should be the goal of every American. Our children are the future. Every city and district should make every effort to fund education as much as needed. That being said, we need to use the money wisely and be accountable for money spent. As far as time goes, districts need to recognize how hard their teachers are working. No one expects overtime pay, but a thank you could go a long way. Perhaps helping hands to aid the teacher, such as volunteers. 3. Teacher morale. Just to be respected and appreciated would go a long way. Teachers need encouragement just like everyone else. Again, a thank you could go a long way. It should also be addressed that teachers are not the only one responsible for educating a child. Parents need to be responsible in getting their children to school on time, being sure they are fed and have the adequate tools for learning, and backing a teacher up with discipline and homework assignments. The goal is
to work together for the betterment of the child.

Q: Any final thoughts you would like to share with your fellow educators across Tennessee?

A: Final thoughts? Tennessee is a great state to be in as an educator. To continue with our success, we need to work hard and never give up. Never compromise. We need to put students first and have them ready to face the challenges that await them after graduation. As the wise Alex Haley once said, “Find the good and praise it.” There is much good going on in Tennessee currently. I am proud to be a part of it.

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

Who is Sara Heyburn?

Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed has an interview with the former teacher who is now the Executive Director of the Tennessee State Board of Education.

One note that struck me in the interview was her expressed desire to hear more from teachers in the policy making process. Here’s what she had to say:

“We need to hear from teachers who are interested in policy making. Continue to persevere and look for those opportunities and find ways to make your voices heard.”

She also speaks to the strengths of existing policy outlets, and advises teachers to take part in them.

“The outlets we have now in our state are great. There are lots of opportunities for teachers to get involved.” However, she also emphasizes that teachers aren’t seeing what they want, they should work to create additional opportunities.

I absolutely agree that policymakers should look to teachers for guidance and insight on education policy decisions. Heyburn’s words sound like a welcome invitation for teachers to offer their perspective as policy is being made.

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

 

Interview with Beacon Center’s Justin Owen

Below is an interview with Justin Owen, President and CEO of Beacon Center of Tennessee. The Beacon Center is helping push voucher legislation in Tennessee.

 

Some of our readers may not know much about the Beacon Center of Tennessee. Can you tell us about your organization?

Most people refer to the Beacon Center as a “free market think tank,” but what that really means is that we come up with ideas to empower Tennessee to reclaim control of their lives, and we put those ideas into action so that those Tennesseans can freely pursue their version of the American Dream.

During the past legislative session, your organization helped push a measure to create a voucher program in Tennessee. Are you bringing about the same legislation this year? Can you tell us about it?

Beacon supported legislation last year that would provide a voucher, or opportunity scholarship, to low-income children zoned for districts containing failing schools. We believe that parents, not ZIP codes, should decide what school their child attends. We owe it to Tennessee families to ensure that each child in our state gets the best education, tailored to his or her unique needs, and we will support similar legislation to do just that in 2015.

Many of our readers are public school teachers. Why should teachers be in favor of sending money away from public schools to private schools?

Teachers consistently point to the need for higher per-pupil funding and smaller class sizes. Opportunity scholarships will give them both. As a recent Beacon study [http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/fiscal-impacts_web.pdf] shows, only a portion of the amount we already spend would follow a child via a scholarship. The rest would remain with that public school to be reinvested in those children. Some districts – like Memphis and Nashville – would not only cover the fixed costs, but save an additional $1,300 to $1,500 for every child that leaves. And while there will be no mass exodus of children from the system (as most families will continue to choose the public school option for their children), those who do leave with a scholarship will reduce classroom sizes, allowing teacher to increase their focus on those who choose to stay in the school.

Is using a voucher system been proven effective?

Yes, studies show that both children who use vouchers and those who choose to remain in their public school benefit. Nine of 10 random assignment studies show gains among opportunity scholarship students. And of 23 studies conducted on vouchers’ impact of public school students, 22 found positive gains in their performance as well. Not one single study has ever found a negative impact on voucher students or those who remain in public schools. Thus, these programs represent a rising tide that lifts all boats.

Besides vouchers, what other education initiations does the Beacon Center promote?

Beacon sees opportunity scholarships as another tool in the education toolbox, and part of a broader movement to empower parents with more choice in education. Our focus is on advancing the various options parents have at their fingertips.

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


 

 

Interview with ASD’s Chris Barbic

Below is an interview with Achievement School District’s Superintendent Chris Barbic. Please note that this interview took place before the announcement of Neely’s Bend as the school that the ASD will take over.

 

In your view, how is the Achievement School District doing overall?

 

We are basically in our third year of having schools in the system. Our first year is really just the planning year. There are a lot of ways to answer that question. The short answer is we are certainly seeing schools that are making really strong gains.

If you look at our schools last year, that finished their second year, that’s our oldest cohort of schools we have. If you look at those six schools, there is a group that averages about 6 point gains composite. If you just look at the charter schools, the three charter schools, they average about 11 point gains, which is that double digit gains that we like to talk about and we like to see. Three of our charter schools who are in the second year, last year, were level five growth. Two of the three made if off the priority list in just two years time.

I know there are lots of people that want to be quick to judge on how we are doing, I think what’s important for people to remember is that of the 17 schools that we have last year, two-thirds were in their very first year. I think it’s a little quick to judge on the entire body of work because the vast majority of schools last year were in their first year.

So when you look at our second year schools, you are seeing lots of promising signs, especially our charter schools, are doing well. On the flip side, there is certainly room to improve. We are trying to come at this with the appropriate level of humility. The schools that we are going into, there were lots of teachers, principals, and dedicated folks who cared a lot about the kids.

Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into the progress and gains that we wanted to see. We understand that this is not easy work. We really try and highlight that this isn’t about a one principal or a group of teachers, what we are really trying to highlight is that this is about how you build a new type of system.

When I took this job, the charge was to build a school district from scratch. The first thing anybody would do would be to look around and find who was doing this well. We wanted to model ourselves off a large or medium urban school district. If you look around the country, to see who the districts are that we want to build ourselves after, there wasn’t one example we could point to. There wasn’t one urban district in the country that was getting it done with all kids. I think when you can’t point to one example, that says to me it’s a systemic problem.There is a problem with how the system is set up.

We tried to take advantage of the opportunity to build a new type of school system. Trying to reform an existing school district that was structured and set up almost a hundred years ago, it’s trying to make a model T work better. It’s an outdated system. What we are trying to put forth is how do we build a car for the 21st century? How to build a car for 2015?

How do you build a district that is more aligned with things that we know work in schools around finding great educators and giving them economies and putting resources down in the building level and not a top down bureaucracy that mandates excellence, but an organization that bottom ups and tries to release excellence. That’s the organization that we are trying to build and why we have chosen to partner with high performing charter organizations to do the work.

 

 

What do you think about all the parental feedback that you received from the meetings at Madison and Neely’s Bend?

 

Unfortunately, we did not hear enough of it. I think the purpose of those meetings was to hear from parents. I think instead what happened was we heard from a few parents. A lot of the people in the meeting were folks that either weren’t from the school community at all or were elected officials that unfortunately chose to put information out there that was, at best, misleading. It wasn’t really until after the meeting was over that we got to really sit down and talk to parents.

Fortunately for us, beside the parent meeting, one of the things we have done in the community is that we had a team of folks out knocking on doors and block walking. The weekend leading up to the parent meeting, they knocked on all the fourth graders doors in the elementary schools that cede into Neely’s Bend and Madison. That’s really the group of kids that are going to be impacted the most by this decision.  LEAD will only be serving fifth grade next year.

What we found was interesting. A lot of the parents, especially the ones that were the most engaging in their kid’s education, already decided that they were not going to send their kids to Madison or Neely’s Bend. They were already looking at other options to send their kids outside the neighborhood because of the reputation of the schools.

Another group of parents that were a little less engaged and more open to the idea of what LEAD was proposing to do. But, had there not been this conversation about the dramatic change that could potentially happen at one of the schools, they were much more inclined not to send their kids to those schools either.

The reason I bring this up is because we think there should be a great neighborhood option that kids and families can access that is right in their own backyard. They shouldn’t have to choose options outside of their community for them to go to a good school. If you look at most of the schools in the low-income parts of Nashville and Memphis, where we do most of our work, the fact is there aren’t enough good neighborhood options. If you look at kids in the priority list, two in ten of those kids can’t read. That’s just not an acceptable number on anyone’s measure. We can all debate data, but no one can agree that’s acceptable.

I think there are a good number of parents who don’t understand and are skeptical about it. That’s understandable. This is new. This is a change. There are just as many parents, if not more, that are open and excited for a great school in their neighborhood. That’s all we are trying to do. To deliver a great school to kids in either Neely’s Bend or Madison because we believe that’s what they deserve.

 

How does the ASD on the whole is dealing with literacy?

 

If you look at our data, in our first year we saw growth in math and science. Our proficiency scores in reading dipped the first year. Last year we saw that trend reversed. We actually grew faster than the state average in reading and math last year if you look across all of our schools. That’s an important measure for us, most of our kids are behind grade level, and our kids need to catch up. If our kids aren’t growing faster than the state average, we are never going to close the gap. That’s an important number to look at. Last year, our kids grew faster than the state average and both middle, elementary, and high school.

I think it gets to how we set up our organization. If you would ask someone in the district how they handle reading, they would tell you that we use XYZ program and the central office pushes that out to the schools to implement that program. Maybe there is some flexibility for teachers and schools to build things on their own, but it’s probably more that they don’t feel like they are getting supports form the central office and they are left to figure things out on their own.

I think the way we approach that is that we believe that teachers and principals who are in schools closest to kids need to make the decisions that matter most in what academic programs should look like. We all have to teach the same standards. The standards are the standards. How we teach those standards should be up to the people that are closest to the kids. That’s the principals and teachers.

Our whole philosophy is that we are not going to tell you which literacy program to use. We are not going to tell you how to teach literacy. What we are going to do is having a rigorous application process for you to get a charter with us. We are going to go through your academic program and we are going to look at your track record and results.

Once you have been approved to open your school, we are going to let you make the decisions around curriculum that you think will be best for your kids. We are going to agree on some benchmarks for progress. We are then going to hold you accountable for results. We just believe that folks sitting in a central office are not the ones in the best positions to make decisions bout what’s best for kids. The people who are in the best position are folks in the classroom.

I think too many times that we see these big top down bureaucracy that lots of decisions get made by people in the central office. Sometimes they get rolled out well. Sometimes they don’t. We don’t lean on people in the schools to make the decisions that matter most. I think that’s where these big top down traditional districts get it flat out wrong. It’s why we have tried to approach this in a different way.

 

Do you think the decorum of the education debate is gone?

 

We stopped listening to each other. I have been painted all sorts of ways in Twitter and Facebook. At the end of day, I taught for six years. I taught sixth grade in an elementary school. The whole reason why I got out of the classroom to start a middle school was because I was tired of watching my elementary school kids go off to local middle schools and have a terrible experience.

I was listening to one horror story after another when my kids would come back to visit my classroom. It broke my heart. I can complain about the middle school, the system, or everything that’s not working, or I could try and do something about it. I chose to start a charter school that served kids in that neighborhood. It grew into a network of schools and thirteen years later I am taking a job and moving to Tennessee.

I say all that because it’s not like anybody on either side of the debate woke up with horns growing out of their heads. Most of the people that are engaged in this debate and conversation genuinely care about kids and genuinely want to see schools get better. I think that when you see some of the misinformation that was spread at the meeting in the Nashville, like when the union passed out flyers. The ironic things about the flyers are that they said “Facts” and it had statements after it and there wasn’t one fact following the statements on that flyer.

When I see that, I tend not to give the people the benefit of the doubt that they are doing this for kids. I think most people are. I think where people get hung up and where we start to fight is while we agree on the what. We want better schools. We disagree on the how.

I think that’s okay because the debate is going to make us all better. We lose a lot when we stop listening to either other. You go to Twitter and each side puts something up that will benefit their side of the argument. Everyone yells in their little echo chambers. I think the other thing, which is unfortunate, is that we don’t come after this with the appropriate level of humility and recognizing that maybe not all of our answers are right. Maybe, there is actually some merit to what the other side has to say.

I think until we are able to listen and agree that no one has a monopoly on good ideas, we are going to continue to lob on to each other. I don’t think that’s helpful. I tried to really reach out and talk to people on both sides of this thing. Sometimes I get fired up and passionate and that is what it is. That happened at the meeting last week. But I think we all have to do a better job of listening to each other. Giving each other the benefit of the doubt that we are coming at this with the same end goals and that is better schools. We have to keep talking about the how.

 

Where people chanting at the meeting you were leading?

 

Jill (Speering) tried to get a chant started. What was unfortunate was that there were parents trying to speak. It wasn’t even a parent in favor of the ASD being there. When you got school board members leading chants and shouting down parents who are trying to talk, it’s not helpful. None of us are evil people. We are all trying to do good work.

I just think a little more decorum or a little more humility and willingness to listen to the other side would benefit all of us. I don’t know where things got off track. Maybe that started to happened before I even go here. It sure would be refreshing to try and get things back on track so we can have productive conversations about kids.

 

Is there anything that is being overlooked in the current education debate?

 

I do think, unfortunately, that we don’t talk nearly enough about kids. We also don’t talk about what works and what hasn’t. I don’t think we talk enough about our willingness to be innovative. Innovation can be reckless. We can’t run social experiments on children. That’s not what we are trying to do. But there is a place for innovation.

If you time warp someone who was alive 100 years ago. Walked him through a normal day. Take him to the grocery store. They look different than they did 20 years ago, you can check yourself out now. Take him to an airport, or a bus stop, or any place that he would be used to a 100 year ago would look completely different.

Except, if you took him into a school and it would look pretty much the same. There would be a hallway with classrooms, and the classroom will either be in rows or tables. We have whiteboard instead of chalkboards. By in large, they would probably feel most familiar walking through the halls of a school. That’s crazy.

To think of all the technology and changes and advances that we have made as a society in the last 50 years. For that innovation to completely steer clear of most of what’s been happening education today, there’s a problem with that.  There is not enough conversation about kids. There is not a conversation about what works and what doesn’t and how we innovate as a profession.

 

Will the ASD have a bigger presence in Nashville?

 

I think that you can’t ignore the fact that the number of priority schools in the city grew from 6 to 15. You can’t ignore the fact the number of kids attending priority schools in Nashville doubled within the last two years from 3,000 to 6,000. That’s a fact.

If we can find partners like LEAD that are willing to do turnarounds in priority schools in Nashville and have a track record and the quality team we believe LEAD has, then yeah, we will expand and we will grow. We will only do it when we feel like we can partner with high performing organizations that will do good work. Assuming we can do that, then we plan to grow our presence here.

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


 

TN Teacher Attends Public Ed Nation Event

On October 11th, the Network for Public Education hosted the first Public Education Nation event in Brooklyn, New York.

The event focused on “Changing the Conversation” and allowed critics of the current education reform agenda a platform to discuss ways to improve public schools. The event was chaired by edu-blogging celebrity Anthony Cody.

Tennessee was represented at the event by teacher and President of the Franklin County Education Association Lucianna Sanson. She previously answered some questions for us about her trip to DC with the Badass Teachers Association.

Sanson provided this report from the Public Education Nation event:

 

Overall impression
I attended the Public Education Nation Event, in Brooklyn on Saturday, October 11, 2014 to listen, learn, make connections, and build relationships with other education activists across the country. I was honored to be asked by Anthony Cody, author of The Educator and the Oligarch, and award-winning edu-blogger at “Living in Dialogue,” to take part in the event as a social media moderator.
What I took away from the NPE event was that we all have to work together and become community activists in order to, as Jitu Brown said, “kill” corporate ed reform.
On the current climate in Tennessee
Memphis, Shelby County, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga, are all feeling the pressure applied by the heavy hand of the Achievement School District as it lays chains of Charters across the state. Teachers in Tennessee are stressed, demoralized, over-worked, and under-paid in many districts.
Tennessee teachers should all watch the archived videos of the NPE event. The panels featured students, administrators, college administrators, parents, and classroom teachers. The panelists are passionate and determined to save our public schools. Watching the panels will give TN teachers the knowledge that we are not alone in the battle here in the Volunteer state. TN teachers can learn how to band together and speak about the attrocities happening in our public schools. Tennessee teachers, I encourage you to speak the truth about toxic testing, developmentally inappropriate standards, loss of arts and recess, and the systematic removal of experienced teachers replaced by green Teach for America recruits.
TN teachers need to realize that they have a voice and they can use it to speak truth to power and stand up to the Corporate Bully of Ed Reform because we do have allies across the Nation that are watching and are willing to help us fight back corporate ed reform.
On how parents and teachers can fight back against institutional ed reform in TN
We begin by having honest dialogue with parents about what the testing is like in our schools. We educate parents on what is happening. We discuss with our students the affects that the testing is having on them. We inform our parents that they can refuse certain tests for their child. We can listen to the voices of our students when they have a concern about being tested. We can encourage our students to speak up about testing and the effects it is having on their educational experience.
These videos and discussions should be shared again and again and again with community leaders and policy makers, county commissioners, board of education members, lawyers, civil rights groups, and citizens who help fund our public schools. These are the grassroots experts discussing the “in the trenches” reality of ed reform, not astroturf faux educators discussing “rigor and grit.”
A message to TN policymakers
My message for Tennessee policymakers is to stop listening to the corporate millionaries, especially the Koch brothers (yes, Williamson County, I am talking to you)  and start listening to the teachers before our state loses our most valuable asset, our public school system, to venture capitalist vultures who grow fat while starving our students.
Tennessee Politicians- Here are my questions for you:  Are you willing to sacrifice our children and our public schools to corporate America? A corporate America that knows nothing about education, or education practice? Or will you choose to embrace community schools, listen to experienced educators, and allow our tax  dollars to support our public schools?
A final observation
One last tidbit from the forum. At the end of the finale, when Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown were taking questions, I stood up and spoke to them about the ed reform situation in TN. I spoke about Memphis and Shelby County being merged and excessing veteran teachers. I spoke about TFA staffing the schools. I spoke about Nashville struggling to fight back the ASD invasion. I also mentioned our brave advocy groups here in Tennessee: the TN BATs, BEARs, TREE, and SPEAK, and how we network across the state to keep each other informed on the shenanigans going on in our state. I wanted people to know that Tennessee needs to be on the radar as a targeted state.
When I was through speaking, Diane Ravitch gave a positive shout out to our activist groups by saying ” Well, one thing I know for sure about Tennessee is that they have BATs, BEARS and TREEs!!”
Sanson with Diane Ravitch at the Public Education Nation event:
Luci and Diane
For more on the event, see Russ Walsh’s take.
Follow Lucianna Sanson @Lucianna_Sanson

Tennessee BATs Attend DC Rally

The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) is a nationwide group of teachers who aggressively argue against the status quo in education — that is, the current education reform agenda. Recently, the BATs held a national rally in Washington, DC and even had a chance to meet with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. A group of BATs from Tennessee joined the national event and TN Ed Report interviewed two of them about the experience.

Lauren Hopson is a teacher in Knox County and Lucianna Sanson is a teacher in Franklin County.  Here’s what they had to say:

1)      Why do you choose to affiliate with the BATs?

Hopson: I discovered the BATS purely by accident when I was checking to see who was posting the video of my October 2013 school board speech. I have always been a bit of a rebel, so the name fit me. At the time, I had no idea how seriously BATs took advocating for our students. Realizing that only solidifies my desire to be part of this group.

Sanson: BATs is a grassroots organization that is a support network for public schools across the nation. In TN, teachers from all areas of the state are able to network and communicate with each other about reforms that are taking place in the state of TN. This is a difficult time for public schools, teachers and students. BATs not only discuss the injustices taking place on the state level, BATs also address these issues and actively seek for positive ways to problem solve and make our public schools better for all students.

 

2)      What was the purpose of the DC BAT Rally?

Hopson: There were several purposes for the rally. Of course, the main purpose was to get the attention of the Department of Education and draw national attention to the destructive nature of current educational reform efforts. However, it also set up a place and time for educators across the country to network and share the experiences with ed reform in their own states.

Sanson: The purpose was multi-faceted. The National BATs Association wrote and delivered specific demands to the DOE and Secretary Arne Duncan- chief among them were demands to stop the over-use of Standardized testing and to halt the privatization and spread of Charter Schools across the United States.

3)      What did you learn from other BATs around the country while you were in DC?

Hopson: Surprisingly, I learned what an appreciation and admiration teachers in other states have for the TN BATs. Along with the Washington, Chicago and New York groups, we have been some of the most vocal and active BATs in the entire country during the last year. I think our own Secretary of Education’s close relationship with Arne Duncan has caused us to feel the effects of education reform more immediately than other states. However, I also think we just have a strong group of vocal teachers who have the Southern backbone to fight these destructive policies.

Sanson:  I learned that TN is not the only state that is going through these same types of reforms. I also learned that racism and socioeconomics play a large role in the take-over of our urban school systems. Basically, the suspicion that re-segregation is happening via Charter school take-overs, “parent trigger laws,” “school choice,” and “Vouchers,” was confirmed by speaking with other BATs across the country. Memphis, and the takeover of their schools by the Achievement School District (ASD), is especially troubling since it is patterned after the New Orleans Recovery School District. I learned that there are only five Public Schools left in the city of New Orleans, and, according to the Fordham Institute, Memphis is directly patterned after New Orleans.

 

4) What were the highlights of your trip to the rally?

Hopson: Singing “Lean on Me” with hundreds of teachers arm in arm in the DOE courtyard was an emotional experience. However, getting to watch my friend and our own legislator, Representative Gloria Johnson, speak during the rally about the positive effects of the “community schools” initiative was a seminal moment. She was able to share the details of a bill she is sponsoring dealing with this concept with educators from across the country who were excited to take this idea back to their home states. It even received interest during the meeting our delegation had with DOE officials at the end of the day.

Sanson: The highlight, for me, was finally meeting all of the people I have been collaborating with on a daily basis for over a year and watching our plans unfold. The Rally on Monday was a true celebration of our students and our public schools, complete with music and dancing, student performance, and spoken word. It was a visual representation of what BATs symbolizes: a holistic approach to learning and the assertion that school should be student-centered and FUN, not testing-centered and a CHORE.

 

5) Do you feel the rally and associated events accomplished anything for teachers? If so, what?

Hopson:  We did get to send in a small delegation to meet with officials in the DOE, and even briefly with Arne Duncan himself. It remains to be seen whether the ideas shared in that meeting will be taken seriously, although TN Teacher Larry Proffitt who was a part of the delegation, seemed optimistic. I do think we drew attention to the plight of students and teachers in America, and at least in my community, I heard from lots of teachers who wish they had been a part of it. Hopefully, this will lead to greater numbers at the next rally. For those of us that did go, we got to feel a sense of connection to a larger power which instilled a new sense of commitment and determination in us all.

Sanson: Yes. On Monday, the all-day celebration for public education ended with a committee meeting inside the U.S. DOE with Secretary Arne Duncan and his team. Our BATs team- which consisted of six members- one of them Larry Proffitt from TN, outlined our concerns and were heard by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and his team. The BATs have another meeting at the U.S. DOE scheduled for later this fall. We look forward to continued dialogue and discourse with the U.S.DOE.

 

6) What do you see as the future for BATs in Tennessee and nationally?

Hopson:  I hope to see BATs become a driving force in changing the direction of education reform. I want to be part of a group that politicians have to take seriously if they want to get elected. BATs should also be a group they will go to for information. With TN being in the Bible Belt, I know it will be hard for the public to get past the name Badass Teachers. Hopefully, however, they will come to see the mission behind the name and realize these Brave Activist Teachers are fighting to protect their children.

Sanson: TNBATs will continue to be the state branch of the National Group. We will continue to network and align ourselves with other parent and citizen groups across the state and nation. We will continue to work with local legislators and policy makers to bring about change. We will continue to work with the Tennessee Education Association to support equality for our teachers, support staff and students.  We will continue to educate and speak truth to power about the reality of Ed Reform and the Privatization movement; we will continue to take a stand for our students and public schools. After all, BATs exists to fight for our students and public schools.

7) How would you describe the current education climate in TN?

Hopson: Toxic. We have toxic levels of testing. We have toxic levels of stress on our students and teachers. Students and teachers have been dehumanized and reduced to nothing more than numbers and data points. There is a complete lack of trust between teachers, administrators, and politicians. Using our students as pawns to further the interests of big money, big power groups is NOT the way to improve our schools.

Sanson: Current ed climate in TN: war zone

Teachers in TN are, in the words of Lauren Hopson, “tired” of not being heard and taken seriously. We are tired of being told how to do our jobs by people who have never taught and who know nothing about teaching. We are tired of seeing our students over-tested. We are tired of teaching to a test. We are tired of being treated like second-class citizens instead of highly trained professionals. We are tired of being “excessed” and replaced by inexperienced TFA green recruits who are ill-equipped with only five weeks of training. We are tired of groups like Micheel Rhee’s Students First giving money to people running for office. We are tired of Governor Haslam and his Commissioner of Education, Kevin Huffman, who have done nothing to help our public schools, but who have done much to sell them to the highest bidder. Most of all, we are tired of being afraid and being bullied into compliance by people threatening our livelihoods. Tired we may be, but being on the front lines and in the trenches means that you get up and go to battle every day. That is what we will continue to do for our Public Schools and our Students: Fight for Them.

 

8) Why should other teachers affiliate with BATs?

Hopson: BATs will provide a sense of community for them and a structure around which they can organize and regain their power.

While I was touring the Civil Rights section of the American History Museum in DC, I saw a quote from A. Phillip Randolph which said, “Nobody expects ten thousand Negroes to get together and march anywhere for anything at any time….In common parlance, they are supposed to be just scared and unorganizable. Is this true? I contend it is not.”

Nobody expects that of teachers either, but I think BATs will change that!

Sanson: TNBATs is a group that helps and supports teachers, parents, and public schools so that we can be better teachers for our students. We are invested in our students and schools and we are determined to bring positive change back into the TN public school systems. BATs are tough, resilient, trustworthy, caring, and willing to go the distance for our students and our profession. I think the better question should be “Why wouldn’t other teachers affiliate with BATs?”

 

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