The Looney Leap

Will MNPS hire its next Director of Schools from neighboring Williamson County?

Andrea Zelinski reports:

…after a day-long series of interviews, meet-and-greets and community forums, board members found themselves laughing at Looney’s jokes, digging his sense of urgency and engaged in the direction he wants to take the district. 

Last month Anna Shepherd was adamant that a candidate from the neighboring, largely white and wealthy district couldn’t understand MNPS’ complex and diverse student body. But after Tuesday’s marathon of meetings, Looney coming from tony Williamson County is “not as troubling” as she thought it would be, she told Pith.

The Board interviewed Barry Shephard today and is slated to make a decision on a favorite for the job by tomorrow.

It’s possible the Board could start the search over or reset it in some fashion, attempting to find additional candidates to consider.

Tune in tomorrow…

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


 

 

Strong Motion

Williamson Strong, a group of Williamson County parents focused on supporting excellent schools, has filed a federal lawsuit against the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance for the fine the Registry levied against the group after finding it was operating as an unregistered political action committee (PAC).

In filing the suit, members of Williamson Strong said:

“The Registry’s primary conclusion, that any two people who spend even one penny to present political opinions can be deemed a political campaign committee, has very serious implications for everyone in the State of Tennessee. This decision is completely contrary to both the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the Tennessee Constitution.”

The complaint further alleges that the Registry’s actions will have a chilling effect on parents in Tennessee who come together to express opinions about public schools. It notes that the Registry’s assertion that individuals with a union affiliation are subject to additional scrutiny places such individuals and others who affiliate with those individuals in a disadvantaged class.

That is: If you express political opinions in a group that includes union members, your political speech may be subject to penalties not applied to groups that do not include union members.

In fact, the Registry’s actions create just that impression: That parent groups will not be construed as true “volunteer groups” or “loose associations” if even one member happens to also be a union member.

As the complaint alleges, this special scrutiny violates the First Amendment’s protection of free association.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the long term and how the Registry handles future complaints regarding unregistered PACs while the lawsuit is in progress.

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

 

 

A 5% Raise?

That’s what teachers and other school employees in Williamson County are likely to see next year if Director of Schools Mike Looney has his way.

Despite some contention at last night’s County Commission meeting, it appears the school system will be able to proceed with the raises as planned because the proposed budget is balanced without asking for additional revenue from the County Commission.

At least one County Commissioner called for merit pay, but Looney said the issue is his district’s ability to recruit new teachers and employees. He cited specific challenges, as noted by Jessica Pace at FranklinHomePage.com:

Looney defended the school board’s proposal by citing the district’s struggle to recruit high school level and specialty teachers, school nurses and bus drivers due to lack of competitive pay.

Looney’s concerns echo the findings of a study by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

It’s not just Williamson County that is having trouble recruiting new teachers, it’s a statewide problem. Williamson is addressing that challenge by using its portion of the $96 million in new state money for teacher compensation to provide a meaningful raise in pay for all teachers and system employees.

Will other systems follow suit and offer significant pay increases to their employees across the board, or will they follow Haslam’s advice and move toward merit pay schemes? It’s budget time and that question will be answered in system after system in the coming months.

More on teacher pay in Tennessee:

Why is TN Teacher Pay 40th?

From 40th to 1st?

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

What’s Going on in Williamson County?

The School Board elections in Williamson County were fought on one primary issue: Common Core. A group of candidates who strongly opposed Common Core were supported by the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and won a majority on the School Board.

Some of these individuals have expressed support for vouchers and for bringing charter schools to Williamson County. Those are two primary goals of AFP.

Alvey on Education offers a view of what’s happening from a Williamson County parent’s perspective. A recent post there discusses a pending resolution at the School Board level that would denounce Common Core. Of course, it seems increasingly likely that Common Core will die an early death in Tennessee. But, the post offers some insight into what is happening now in one of the best school systems in Tennessee.

The article concludes with a prediction:

So that’s why the board will vote to approve the anti-Common Core resolution. But don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself what is going to go down at the Oct. 16 board working session. Formal meeting on new board chair and vice-chair starts at 6pm. Expect lots of AFP t-shirts, and lots of crazy from 912ers. If you want to attend, and not get confused with those groups, put on a WCS or FSSD school shirt, or a Be Nice shirt, to show you’re a real local and not an import. Doors open at 5 pm, and you’ll want to get there earlier rather than later.

But the whole piece is worth a read to get some background on the players from inside and outside Williamson County seeking to disrupt what was once a quiet, and quite successful, suburban school system.

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

Williamson County Teachers Vote “No Confidence” in Huffman

The Williamson County Education Association is the latest teacher group to express a lack of confidence in Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s ability to lead the state’s schools.

The announcement of the vote adds to a growing list of teacher groups, superintendents, and school boards expressing frustration at Huffman’s lack of collaboration and top-down leadership style.

Williamson County’s Director of Schools, Mike Looney, signed a letter also signed by directors across the state expressing frustration with Huffman.

While the vote was taken before last week’s release of NAEP results, Williamson County teachers maintain they are not opposed to positive reform, but are frustrated with leadership at the state level they say is not listening to teachers.

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

 

WCS Superintendent Explains Why He Signed Huffman Letter

A group of 56 Tennessee School Superintendents sent a letter to Governor Haslam this week encouraging him to ask his Education Commissioner, Kevin Huffman, to be more inclusive and collaborative in his approach on education reform.  The letter stirred up a bit of controversy and no doubt created headaches for Huffman last week and into this one.

Now, one of those who signed the letter, Williamson County’s Mike Looney, is explaining why he did.

Looney notes that he is a supporter of common sense education reform.  He indicates that his concern is with both the speed at which reform has been implemented and the lack of collaboration.

Here are a couple of important points made in Looney’s letter:

Our state secured and has spent $500,000,000 in Race to the Top grant funds in the last three years.  At the same time, Tennessee has realized small incremental improvements in student results.  One might argue that the dizzying rate of education reforms in Tennessee is the result of the huge influx of federal dollars rather than a careful, measured understanding of the needs of students.  Others believe these pockets of improvement are a result of implementing The Tennessee Diploma project, which preceded Race to the Top initiatives.  In reality, as most any researcher would concede, it is difficult to know which reforms have been beneficial because we have manipulated too many variables.

Perhaps most discouraging is the fact that 50% of the $500,000,000 was kept by the Tennessee Department of Education.  I wonder for what purpose and to whose benefit?  The district I serve received less than $400,000 which did not come close to covering the cost and burden of implementing these reforms.

This is likely why organizations like Professional Educators of Tennessee are asking for an audit of Race to the Top expenditures.

Looney continues:

Based on the number and pace of reforms, their strategy seems to be to throw as many darts as possible at the problem in hopes that something, anything, will hit the bull’s eye and stick.  Meanwhile, many teachers and administrators have encouraged a more deliberate, reflective and inclusive approach, which I believe will yield long term sustainable results.  In short, Tennessee students, educators and families are not well served by rapid-fire reform efforts that ignore the importance of collaboration and thoughtful implementation.

This is a thoughtful letter raising very legitimate concerns that should certainly be addressed by the Governor and Commissioner Huffman.  If Dr. Looney’s urging won’t encourage their response, perhaps some legislators will raise these very same questions.

Tennesseans deserve excellent education for all children.  They also need to know the reform strategy being pursued is being implemented thoughtfully and is efficiently using the state’s limited funds.

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