Dr. Ryan Jackson from Mt. Pleasant High School in Maury County, TN, “The Mount,” shares real life examples as he talks about educators being advocates for the “underdog.”
   

 

Signs of child abuse are all around us.  We need to know where to look.  #TNEdu

 

Every child should have a dream for their future.   Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be.  As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life.  Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.

A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life.  America is understood to be the home of possibility.  The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don’t even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.

Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential.   Their focus is to encourage kids to dream.  They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.”  This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.”  It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.

Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.”   We need art and music in our culture.  Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools.  President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”

Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored.  The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.

This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees.   Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence.  Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential.    Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams.  President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.

Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”

This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students.  It isn’t just about education reform or public education reimagined.   There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged.  This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.  To paraphrase Steven Tyler:  When we look in the mirror.  The lines are getting clearer.  The past is gone.  Dream On.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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I drew back my fist and tried to defend my mother after my dad had struck her numerous times.  I don’t remember my exact age, but I was around 4 years of age.  It is etched forever in my mind and fuels my abhorrence of injustice and deep respect of women. Sometimes I close my eyes and it is as if I am there again.

In high school, it was endless cycle of verbal battles—and I could give much better than I would take. My dad, Francis Bowman, was a tough man. He was the 11th of 12 children of a moderately successful, yet well-respected father, who himself died way too early.  It was hard for me to love him, yet other people told me stories of his constant charity and gregarious nature.  He had a determined work ethic, often working two jobs, and he taught me to never expect to be handed anything in life.  Certainly nothing would be handed to me under his roof.  When I was 17 it escalated and he finally slapped me.  I wanted to hit back at him, but somehow, I knew better.  I yelled the words that I thought would hurt him the most: “I hate you.”  And at that moment in my life, I did.

Hate is a motivating emotion.  Fear, anger, and hatred are all painstakingly linked together.  Much like love, all of them can serve to influence our behavior. My father had served his country during the Korean War in the United States Navy.  So, after high school, I needed to show him that I was much tougher than him and I joined the United States Marines.  I didn’t even bother to tell him until just a few days before I left for boot camp.  It was the only time I ever recall seeing him cry.

It is an ancient ritual of fathers and their children.  The child yearning to grow into adulthood, and a father’s tough love.  Mothers can be demanding, but they have that nurturing and caring side that escapes most men. Fathers try to instill discipline in order to help their children succeed in a heartless, often uncaring, world.

When you become a father, you are reminded by memory and experience or from others and those lessons you pass along to your own children.  The ritual of fatherhood continues.  You will hear the words of hate spewed back at you, and it hurts.  The emotional pain hurts more than any physical pain.  At that moment you realize the hurt you caused your own father.  It is then you start the healing process.

The Christmas before he passed away, my dad asked me to come see him.  He handed me a wad of cash, and a newspaper with the price of hams circled.  He then handed me a list of names and some addresses.  He wanted me to deliver, in secret, hams to all those addresses, including many people I had never met.  I had discovered he had been doing this much of his life for the underprivileged.  I also learned from my Uncle that he had played Santa Claus at orphanages in South Korea while he was in the Navy.  He said he would never play that role again, and he didn’t, because one little girl had asked him for a father.  I started to understand him better.

My mother called me on that October day in 1991.  You need to come home, your father is dying.  I had heard that before.  More to please her than to satisfy him, I went home.  He was dying.  But it would be a magnificent death.  For once all was clear, pain seemingly gone.  For just a few days he was able to apologize for all the wrongs he had committed or felt he had committed.  Words were said that needed to be spoken, and a message was given that needed to be heard.  He held nothing back, sharing a lifetime full of words in a few hours.  His remorse was heartfelt and restorative.

Sitting there watching my father pass into his eternal reward, based on his Christian faith, I reflected on the broken man who raised me.  It was years later when I was truly able to forgive.  I don’t condone many of his actions, but I was able to move past them.  I learned that I am much like my father in many ways.  A strength, a toughness that is entrenched into my being that I inherited.  I remember among his last words: “Life really is simple, we just complicate it. If I had to do it over again I would focus more on those things that are important, like faith and family.”  I am my father’s son.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter at @jcbowman or his Blog at www.jcbowman.com     

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The Tennessee Department of Education announced at a noon press conference on Thursday some necessary changes to the state TNReady test that teachers, administrators and superintendents have been asking the state to make. Among the changes include rebidding the testing contract, refining the current Questar contract, revising timeline for online testing, and engaging more teachers. These steps complement additional actions already in the works, including eliminating two TNReady end-of-course exams, eliminating the March stand-alone field test for the next two years, simplifying and streamlining test administration, bringing in a third party to perform an independent review of Questar’s technological capabilities, improving customer service, and engaging dozens of additional Tennessee teachers, content experts, and testing coordinators to look at every part of our state testing program.

Dale Lynch from the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents and JC Bowman from Professional Educators of Tennessee were in attendance at the announcement. Both praised the Tennessee Department of Education for taking proactive steps to address the issue. Bowman added: “Leadership collects input from those on the ground, makes the process better for all, and then tweaks the product as needed. We firmly believe that changes needed to be made, and we are pleased that Commissioner McQueen and her team heard our message and made the necessary changes to improve student assessment in Tennessee.”

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said at the press conference: “improvements are being made after ongoing conversations with teachers, parents, education leaders, and policymakers over the past several weeks and are aimed at addressing a number of areas of concern.” She added: “Teachers, students and families deserve a testing process they can have confidence in, and we are doing everything possible to meet that responsibility,” Commissioner McQueen said. “We are always committed to listening and improving, and we’ll continue to do just that.”

The multi-faceted changes announced today will immediately improve the state assessment—TNReady—and establish a longer-term framework for success. The steps being taken to improve TNReady include:

  • Releasing a new Request for Proposals (RFP) to identify the assessment vendor or vendors that can successfully administer the state test in 2019-20 and beyond.  The RFP process will better ensure that students can take TNReady seamlessly and without disruption.
  • Amending the state’s current contract and relationship with Questar to improve the assessment experience in 2018-19
  • Adjusting the pace of the state’s transition to online testing

In May, a national study recognized Tennessee as the No. 1 state in the country for improvement in the quality of its academic standards, going from an “F” rating in 2007 to an “A” in 2017. TNReady is designed to measure those standards, and it has a variety of different types of questions to look for the depth of students’ knowledge.

Tennessee is one of less than 10 states that still has a paper test in middle school—and both state and district leaders recognize that the workforce of the 21st century is increasingly online. We also want every student to have a positive testing experience, and we want to maximize the ability to have a seamless online administration. Accordingly, the state is adjusting the timeline to continue the transition to online but at a modified pace. For 2018-19:

  • Students in grades 3-8 will take TNReady on paper for math, English, and social studies.
  • Students in grades 3-4 will take their TNReady science test on paper, and students in grades 5-8 will take their science test online. Science is a field test in 2018-19 because the state is transitioning to new academic standards; therefore, the results will not count for students, teachers, or schools, nor will any public scores be released. This provides an option for all students to experience the online platform and do so in an environment that is low-risk for them.
  • Students in high school and those taking end-of-course exams will continue to test online.

Further, the department will improve paper administration, as well. In addition to having Tennessee teachers review all test questions, scripts, and test forms, the department is streamlining test logistics to have fewer versions of the test distributed across the state. This makes it much easier on testing coordinators and proctors to administer. The state has also combined the answer document and test questions into one test booklet in lower grades so it is easier for students to take the test.

For more information on the additional TNReady improvements  you can visit the Tennessee Department of Education website.

 

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Schools must be safe zones for students and teachers. That means the first step in school safety is securing the perimeter of a school. It seems like simple logic that we should keep intruders out and also make sure the area inside those boundaries is safe for children and adults. Students are our priority, but teachers need protection too.  Our School Safety Survey Results are here. 

Unfortunately, as we have seen far too frequently, our schools are easy targets for those who wish to harm others. When premeditated attacks and school shootings occur, they are usually over within minutes. Most of the time law enforcement is simply not able to respond quickly enough to the event and lives are needlessly lost.

Intruders, who wish to hurt our students and teachers, are usually very familiar with the schools’ defense system and create plans around that information. More than likely, the defense strategy is in the student handbook posted online. These people know when to attack, where to go and often how to escape. Students and teachers alike, as well as approved visitors should have a visible identification badge on them at all times. There needs to be secure exterior doors to limit building access points, and each district should develop a uniform policy for entry into a school.

Former Metro Nashville Principal Bill Gemmill, pointed out: “All schools need upgraded security, whether it is as simple and reasonable as inside locks on classroom doors.” It is also time to put metal detectors in every school across America. The federal government could absorb the cost by simply eliminating any of the already wasteful programs they are funding. Public school safety must be a priority at every level of government. If you see something, say something, and then someone in authority must do something.

The last line of defense that we can have for our kids is an armed person willing and ready to defend them if the unspeakable should happen. That is why it is critical that we look at expanding the School Resource Officer (SRO) program. This is a highly effective program that serves many purposes during the school year and is invaluable where it now exists. It is important that the program be directed by a local law-enforcement agency, working in conjunction with the local education agency. The school can employ and utilize additional security, but the primary responsibility should fall to local law enforcement.

The Center for Problem-Oriented Policing has outlined three basic roles of an SRO: Safety Expert and Law Enforcer, Problem Solver and Liaison to Community Resources and Educator. While all three are important functions, the primary role should focus on the law enforcement and safety component. SRO’s should be preserving order and promoting safety on campus and serving as first responders in the event of critical incidents at schools, such as accidents, fires, explosions, and other life-threatening events. They are not supplementary school administrators dealing with minor school discipline issues or emergency instructors. It is clear that we must better define SRO programs, what we want them to accomplish, and better analyze how we measure their effectiveness. Law Enforcement and School District Leaders should yield to the law enforcement professionals on matters of school safety and law enforcement.

It is time to discuss the gun issue. I strongly support the 2nd Amendment and have a handgun carry permit myself. We must have common sense approach to who, when, and where we can carry firearms, without infringing on the rights of law abiding citizens. We should raise the age for the purchase of certain guns to the age of 21, with exemption to active duty military. We prohibit drinking of alcoholic beverage until 21, we should follow suit here as well. Many young people just are not prepared for the responsibility of drinking or owning a firearm. We should make stronger background checks, considering factors such as criminal background and mental health. We should also prohibit bump stocks that can convert guns into automatic weapons. We should more aggressively punish those who commit crimes with guns. But we will need to be careful that the policy is reasonable.

Policymakers, at the state and federal level, are also likely to look at legislation that empowers individual school districts to determine for themselves what direction they want to take on school safety, including qualified, certified and licensed volunteer school personnel going armed in their building. If a district decides to allow trained and armed teachers and administrators into the schools, the decision should not be taken lightly. The state should never mandate educators having to carry firearms or prohibit them from carrying, if permitted by the district. It is a decision that should be made at the local level based on the needs and size of the community.

Certainly, armed teachers who possess training or a military background would deter some intruders. However, trained law enforcement personnel are much preferred and would be a much greater deterrent. Mike Conrad, a teacher in Detroit said in a recent interview: “I think that the moment that you put a gun on the hip of a teacher in a classroom, that we have accepted the norm that school shootings will not stop, that we are now on the front line to defend against them, instead of trying to find a way to stop them.” The subject is very emotional, with good arguments coming from either side of the debate, which is why each community must decide for themselves this issue.

School safety policies must be flexible and practical. However, the issue of improved school security will not be resolved in the current political environment, as long as real solutions are not considered based on a liberal or conservative bias. It is time to quit playing political volleyball with this issue. Real lives, those of children and adults, are at stake in our schools. The time of talking is past; it is time to take action. Any viable option that can lead to a safer environment in our schools and communities should be on the table.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please contact Audrey Shores, Director of Communications, at 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

This article also appeared at:  http://www.proedtn.org/news/388542/No-More-Political-Volleyball.htm

The School Safety Survey Results are Found here:  http://www.proedtn.org/news/395676/Tennessee-School-Safety-Survey-Results.htm

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If you are not a regular reader of the education blog Dad Gone Wild written by TC Weber, add it to your list.  He will make you laugh, he will make you mad, and he will make you cry…sometimes in the same article.  His latest column, So Here We Are, goes where few writers dare to go by pointing out: “Nashville has long been over due for a conversation on race and how it plays out in our public institutions.” Weber is right.

In the growing debate over Metro Schools Superintendent Shawn Joseph, Mr. Weber asks the million-dollar question:  How much of the criticism directed toward the Director of Schools is rooted in the color of his skin as opposed to his performance?  Answer that question than proceed to the debate.  If you are judging him because of the color of his skin, you need to exercise your constitutional right and remain silent.  If it is based on performance, then take Weber’s advice and “evaluate with the same rigor we demand of others.”

At times the Dad Gone Wild columns go on for too long, but some of it is so brilliant one wonders if the education students at Lipscomb, Trevecca, Belmont, or Vanderbilt shouldn’t be required to read his columns prior to graduating.  It is where reality and policy intersect, along with a healthy dose of investigative journalism.  A local newspaper should certainly pick up Dad Gone Wild or Mr. Weber should expand his reach beyond Music City and go statewide or national.

Weber states that he wants to “continually push the conversation forward and to expand my boundaries and knowledge base.”  He adds, “I personally don’t believe race is an issue that we can ignore or a conversation we can shy away from. Too many of our important decisions, especially in education, are rooted in race. Funding, programing, and attendance are just some of the areas where race influences our decisions.”  He is correct.  And we all have “skin” in that game.   Then he states: “my goal is to support policy that is best for kids, families, and teachers.”  That point is lost on far too many people, from the bureaucrat to the politician.

Weber emphasizes that “this conversation suffers, as Nashville is currently suffering, from a lack of leadership.”  He believes there “is currently a leadership vacuum in Nashville that starts at the mayoral level and descends downward.”  It would be hard to disagree with this statement, although I might suggest that the grassroots cannot be afraid to lead, and, if needed, push the so called “leaders” out of the way.

I have no problem with the Superintendent rapping along with a song, no matter how vulgar it may be or not be.  That’s his prerogative.  He will ultimately answer to the community if he crosses the professional line.  My opinion of Shawn Joseph will be based strictly on his performance, or lack thereof.  My question is: How do you think he is doing? 

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. 

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Our nation’s security and immigration policy are federal responsibilities, yet it is has become another example of our federal government not meeting a legitimate need of American citizens.   In fact, we may have reached a tipping point on this subject. In Nashville, for example, foreign-born residents have increased from 2.5 percent of its population a decade ago to more than 12 percent today.

Our country was launched on principles that embrace people that legally come to our country. All immigrants should endeavor to learn and embrace American culture and civic heritage pride, as well as our political heritage.

We have established, and must enforce, the procedures of legal immigration and naturalization at the federal level. It is clear that our current immigration policies have are failing, largely because we have not enforced what has been established or secured our borders. People now arriving on our borders anticipate asylum the minute they get into our country.

Our nation has always welcomed people to our shores. In fact, on the Statute of Liberty in New York Harbor there is a poem by Emma Lazarus to remind us of freedom and opportunity that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”

However, we must require and strongly support a legal method of immigration. It is true that immigration is not always a question of law and order.  It is also a problem for all of humanity.  Immigrants, both legal and illegal, are real human beings. They are not merely a number or statistic.  The recent wave of illegal children crossing our borders is alarming.  They are being sent by their parents, by questionable means, and encompass the hopes and dreams of their families.

In many ways, immigrants are doing what almost any of us would do if our own children were starving, countries were unsafe, or if they have no hope for the future. And too often in our discussion about immigration, that perception is lacking. Who among us would not do whatever was necessary to see that our children were safe, had food or a chance for a better future? However well mean-meaning, what are the ramifications of these children immigrating to our country and state for public education? State laws that are designed to marginalize immigrant families in the name of deterring illegal immigration have largely been declared unconstitutional.

For example, in 1982, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Plyler vs. DOE that children in our country here illegally have the same right to attend public schools as other citizens. In addition, these children are obliged to attend school until they reach a mandatory age. So, there will be an impact in whatever state that these children reside, including here in Tennessee.

So regardless of our opinion on the subject, the Plyler ruling made clear that public schools could not deny admission to any student. Nor could they treat any student differently or prevent the right of access to school. In addition, public schools cannot require students or parents to disclose their immigration status. Data by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families in 2014 showed Tennessee has already received 760 of the more than 30,000 children this year, about 2.5 percent of the unaccompanied children crossing into the United States.

School personnel, especially administrators or educators involved with student intake activities will have their hands tied this fall. We expect it will create numerous issues at local level, and for our state. It is time our federal policymakers do their job and create a tenable immigration policy to safeguard our borders and create legal pathways to citizenship. Failure to do so merely continues bad policy and places public education at the forefront of the battle.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.

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State Representative Harold Love recently shared one of the most inconceivable statistics in Tennessee.  The Nashville zip code 37208 has the highest percentage of incarceration in the nation, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.  The school to prison pipeline is unquestionable.   A child cannot succeed in life if they are denied the opportunities of a quality education. Lack of opportunity and quality education establishes the pathway to incarceration. Education remains the key to escaping poverty, even as poverty remains the biggest obstacle to education.

Tennessee has a richness of poverty.  According to the Southern Education Foundation, over 50 percent of the nation’s children are in poverty. Poverty is a vast and complex issue that plagues communities in a seemingly endless cycle. Accompanying poverty is its sidekick, hunger.  According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 15.3 million children under 18 in the United States live in households where they are unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life. These 8 states have statistically higher food insecurity rates than the US national average (14.6%): Arkansas (21.2%), Mississippi (21.1%), Texas (18.0%), Tennessee (17.4%), North Carolina (17.3%), Missouri (16.9%), Georgia (16.6%), and Ohio (16.0%). More than 1 in 5 children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, it’s 1 in 3 according to the USDA.

Carlos Lee, a PhD student at LSU wrote: “Students who live in poverty come to school every day without the proper tools for success. As a result, they are commonly behind their classmates physically, socially, emotionally or cognitively.”  According to Eric Jensen at the Center for New York City Affairs, high-poverty schools are more likely to struggle with school climate concerns such as absenteeism and truancy, bullying, and trust and engagement issues that can weaken the learning environment. The road is to prison may arise out of the home, but it also veers through our school systems.  Poverty puts too many students at a disadvantage before they even step foot in a classroom.

Distinguished educator Paul Reville, and Harvard University, launched the Education Redesign Lab to pilot a revolutionary approach to create a new, more comprehensive education model better designed to close achievement gaps and provide each and every child the support and opportunities they need to be prepared for success. Nashville or Memphis should also look at this approach.

The theory of the Harvard Education Redesign Lab is putting forth to overcome widespread inequity in child development and education support is that “we must dramatically redesign, align, and integrate our systems of child development and education.”  They also believe we must start in early childhood to “tailor instruction to meet each child’s needs, while braiding health and social services with schools, and providing access for all to high-quality expanded learning and enrichment opportunities.”  This, they argue, gives all children a “much fairer chance of succeeding in education and in life.”

I am mindful that the counter argument is that we do not want the state to raise our children.  It grows dependence upon government.  This is true.  And I think we can put safeguards in place to easily prevent that from happening.  However, I also believe that all children are created in the image of God.  It is far more economical to educate a child, than it is to incarcerate an adult  That is why it is important to have private enterprise invest in this effort, not only with their money, but also their human capital. Leaders across our state need to make this a priority.

Our answer cannot be scores on a standardized test.  Studies from the American Psychological Association reveal the psychological effects of hunger on education. Hunger is known to cause depression, anxiety and withdrawal, all of which are obstructions to a child trying to focus on education. Our solution must be to prepare every child for success.  Perhaps we need to redefine what success looks like for those impacted by poverty?  We can, and we must, address these momentous challenges.

Just to recap:  Nashville zip code 37208 has the highest percentage of incarceration in the nation.  Tennessee students are some of the poorest in the nation.  We have the 4th highest food insecurity rate in the United States.  There is no better time for changing the trajectory for children than now.  We already know where those consequences lead.

Numerous philanthropic organizations have supported public education over the years, using their private dollars with public dollars to meet the needs of impoverished youth.  Tennessee has numerous organizations, from the Hyde Family Foundation in West Tennessee to the Frist Foundation in Middle Tennessee to the Niswonger Foundation in East Tennessee which could lead this type of effort.  It might even be something SCORE, the State Collaborative on Reforming Education could make their focus and mission.  Nashville is in their backyard.  We would be glad to assist.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.  Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee.

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It is often said that the most important role of a board of education is to hire its superintendent. I think that is a somewhat a valid claim. Certainly if you value public education, you must have competent leadership managing the daily operations of the school district. A good superintendent leads the districts educational, financial and administrative performance; facilitates the performance of all personnel; and responds to and informs stakeholders and policymakers about the performance and leadership of the district.

Having met many, if not most, Superintendents of Schools here in Tennessee, I believe we do have some excellent leaders across our state. Probably one of the most important duties of the superintendent is to make sure district students are learning and achieving at the highest level possible. A superintendent must understand effective academic practices and be supportive of the teachers and administrators in the district. Leadership, vision, and strategic thinking are critical skills for every superintendent. A successful superintendent is should also be an effective and excellent communicator. If the only voice a superintendent listens to is his/her own, or a few members of the school board, public education will eventually lose community support.

In the last few years, I have seen some horrifying treatment of Superintendents across the state. I have seen them maligned by anonymous message boards, attacked in the media, belittled by their own school board members, often unfairly. I am reminded of Mark Twain’s quote: “Great minds talk about ideas; good minds talk about events; small minds talk about people.”

Does that mean that we simply accept decisions from superintendents, without challenging them? Of course not! We must particularly hold them accountable in regard to educational, financial and administrative performance. However, we should provide them latitude in regards to leadership, vision and strategic thinking on how to address the performance in those areas. And we must expect them to communicate effectively to all stakeholders.

The American Association of School Administrators suggests that the superintendent, like principals, must also demonstrate a keen understanding of teaching, learning and what works for students. As a change leader, a successful superintendent should emphasize the efficient use of resources, personnel, and data to break down resistance and drive systemic change; empower board and personnel to set goals, measure results, develop accountability, and support planning, evaluation, and resource allocation.

Our state has made some incredible strides in public education. It is an accomplishment that we should admire and respect. It begins with the men and women in the classroom across this state, and we must also acknowledge the hard work of those who lead our schools.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee. Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.