I hope each of you have enjoyed the holidays! If you are like me, you are gearing up for 2020 and all that a new year brings. I thought I would pass along some reflections on 2019 and hopes for the coming year. I remain in awe of the tremendous responsibility of serving on the School Board in Nashville, and thank each of you for your support and encouragement along the way.
I’ll start by offering some acknowledgments:
2019 brought tumultuous change to MNPS. My first nine months on the board were dominated by the challenges related to Dr. Joseph’s tenure, which made it nearly impossible to build an agenda focused on the most pressing issues in the district. I wrote about the experience in this op-ed for the Tennessean, and am still grappling with the effects that the conflict, both internally and externally, took on the district and the city.
Dr. Joseph’s departure coincided with the budget season for Metro government and the school district. I found our budget process opaque and the negotiations with Mayor Briley and the Metro Council to be challenging at best. I came out of that difficult process with newfound respect for our teachers who boldly pushed for an increase in pay, and for the leadership of Councilmember Mendes, as well as others on the council, for their efforts to inform the city and ask for an increase in our property taxes to fund the needs of the city.
We were fortunate that Dr. Adrienne Battle agreed to step up and serve as the interim Director of Schools in April, and her leadership has given us an opportunity to recalibrate and set a new course. She has appointed seasoned leaders to her cabinet and been responsive and thoughtful from the outset. A search for the permanent Director of Schools began in December, and we hope to conclude that process by the end of March. Dr. Battle will throw her hat in the ring, and we know that it will be a competitive process, but one that will allow us to make bold decisions in 2020.
In the meantime, I continue to serve as chair of the Governance Committee, where we routinely examine existing policies, or create new ones to address issues within the district. Additionally, I now serve as Budget and Finance Chair with hopes of building greater understanding of what it means to fully fund our district, and how to best leverage our funding to get greater results. I am concerned about our prospects without a new property tax in 2020. It will be impossible to recruit, retain and support great teachers without a budget increase. And in an environment of budget and resource scarcity (in a thriving city at that) it is our students who suffer the most – with a persistent lack of access to instructional materials, textbooks and technology, as well as a long list of delayed infrastructure improvements that are vital to their learning environment.
As I look ahead to 2020 I’ll place some important markers in the ground. I will focus my energy the following priorities: helping select a permanent Director of Schools; working with Mayor Cooper and the Council on a bold and transparent budget for our schools, staff and students; leading a conversation on high school start times; digging in on the research on literacy and weighing in where helpful; and aggressively pushing for us to offer a world-class education to each and every one of our students.
Please continue to reach out to me with thoughts, advice, reading and podcast suggestions, and things I should have on my radar. I commit to staying in touch in 2020. Happy New Year!
P.S. In hopes of simplifying my life a bit, I have closed my Gini for Schools Facebook page. I remain active on Twitter @ginipupo and you can reach me via email at firstname.lastname@example.org You can learn more about all things MNPS School Board, including agendas and how to watch or to sign up to speak at a meeting, here.
2018 was an important year for our family, ushering in changes and much to celebrate. Eli entered his senior year at Centre College, Eddie earned a Guggenheim award for his research in Mexican history, and I was elected to the School Board with the help of family, friends and an amazing team. We have a lot to be thankful for, and I know that 2019 will be a year of learning and growth.
I spent the last four months on a rather steep learning curve as a School Board member, trying to identify and master the “hidden rules”, as we say in the education business. I did my homework before for each meeting or retreat, and asked questions and contributed when I thought it furthered the conversation. I came in with the distinct advantage of having strong relationships with people inside and outside of MNPS, all working hard to help our school system succeed. But I still have a lot to learn about how change is made, how to use my voice, and to measure success or define challenges and solutions in a range of key areas. Thank you for giving me the space to learn this fall, and I am glad to be back with my blog to share some thoughts. Here a just a few of my highlights from 2018:
I met hundreds of amazing people on the campaign trail and since my election, and have learned so much about my hometown and about our commitment to public education.
Once elected, I began to visit District 8 schools, attending celebrations and events, and hearing from principals and staff about their experiences, needs, and aspirations.
I met and heard from many parents, and did my best to provide them with information, and to troubleshoot issues whenever possible.
I visited classrooms and made presentations to students, and I got to see our incredible teachers in action.
I have read countless articles and books on education leadership and policy-making in an effort to inform my thinking.
I was named chair of the Governance Committee, and am learning how to use the position to address key issues, provide clarity, and to examine existing or potential policies that support our work.
I built strong working relationships with the Metro Council members that serve District 8 and am inspired by their dedication and knowledge.
I was able to keep the Stokes building from the auction block as we face significant budget challenges. I believe we must hold on to our assets and not sell them just to cover a one-time shortfall, and I hope to work with community leaders to find a solution for Stokes that benefits the neighborhood.
I committed to re-launching an exploration of later start times for our high schools, and look forward to working with parents, staff and students to study this issue.
And here are some of my priorities and interests for 2019:
I have begun to build my own dashboard, if you will, on a broad range of key data points and information related to the success of MNPS. I will make decisions this year based on the evidence at hand, and will share how I interpret and use it to inform my work on the board, including our upcoming budget process and our mid-year and summative evaluations of the performance of Dr. Joseph.
I am committed, along with some key allies, to creating a forum for our community to participate in conversations about public education in Nashville. I hope to create opportunities for dialogue on what research and practice tell us on topics like school turnaround, teacher recruitment and retention, school funding, integration, choice, parent engagement and leadership, instructional practice, school culture, discipline, and more.
I will remain vigilant on the implementation of the new Sanctuary City bill that passed the state legislature, and push to make sure that our immigrant families and students feel welcomed and safe in every one of our schools.
I hope to participate in efforts to create workforce housing for teachers in Nashville, and to build on the success of other cities that have been able to do so.
I will launch an inclusive and open process to examine later start times for our high schools.
I will serve as an advocate for our students and schools by working closely with Mayor Briley, Metro Council members, the State Board and Tennessee Department of Education, and state and national legislators to make sure they understand our unique opportunities and challenges, and to ensure that we get the resources and support necessary for our success.
I commit to using my voice as a School Board member to build trust in our ability to lead and to improve outcomes for every student in our city. We must model the behavior that we expect from our students and staff, and honor the hard work that they do every day.
Thank you as always for your support and please continue to reach out to me with ideas and opportunities to engage and help our schools and community. Happy New Year!
P.S. I am using Facebook very rarely now (I’m debating with whether I should keep an account at all), but remain active on Twitter @ginipupo If you want to read previous blog entries you can see them here. You can reach me via email at email@example.com
I now have two school board meetings under my belt and have spent the last six weeks reading research on the traits of effective school boards and how they impact student learning and success. I have found commonalities across studies, which reinforced my decision to run for the board, as well as my values as a board member. I’ll share what I learned, and my expectations for the coming months.
I’ll start with the Lighthouse study, a landmark project that began in 1998 and which is considered important and rigorous research on school board effectiveness. Lighthouse reveals that school boards in high-achieving districts, or those that have substantially raised achievement, have attitudes, knowledge and approaches that separate them from their counterparts in lower-achieving districts. They identify the traits of “moving” and “stuck” boards, and argue that despite their “distal” relationship to the classroom they can have a dramatic effect on achievement.
Their findings are consistent with those reported in multiple subsequent studies, and are the foundation for the National School Board Associations’ Characteristics of Effective School Boards. In summary, “moving”, or effective school boards:
1. Commit to a vision of high expectations for student achievement and quality instruction, create a sense of urgency, and set clear goals toward that vision
2. Have strong shared beliefs and values about what is possible for students and their ability to learn
3. Are accountability driven, applying pressure by spending less time on operational issues and more time focused on setting high expectations, and crafting policies to improve student achievement
4. Are data savvy: embracing and monitoring data and progress constantly, even when the information is negative, and using it to drive continuous improvement
5. Have strong collaborative relationships with one another, staff and the community, and create strong communications structures to inform internal and external stakeholders
6. Align and sustain resources to meet goals, and maintain high expectations even in the midst of budget challenges
7. Demonstrate commitment to student learning through board actions and decisions (evaluation of the superintendent, resource allocation, contracts, instructional time or design of the calendar, etc.)
8. Participate in a deliberative policy development process, understanding the role of policy for guiding and sustaining district work
The research that I read underscores my belief that student achievement must be central to the work of our board in MNPS, and that we play a pivotal role in how well our schools perform. I’m deeply concerned that the number of Priority Schools in MNPS has doubled since 2014. I believe that the Board of Education bears considerable responsibility in setting a course for improvement, and that you must hold us, as well as district leadership, responsible for the results.
My expectation is that the Board of Education will receive very regular and detailed reports on the improvement process in our Priority Schools, with supporting data and evidence on progress towards both interim and long-term goals. We must also take time to learn from our schools that came off of the Priority School list this year. Additionally, it is important to create processes to regularly examine student and school success beyond TNReady, including MAP and WIDA results, measures of college readiness, chronic absenteeism and discipline, as well as school climate and culture for both students and staff. We must know where we are in order to plan, adjust and improve.
I commit to doing my part to ensure we are a “moving” board so that we can collectively address the most critical challenge before us, which is to provide an excellent education for every single child in our city.
It’s been quite the week! I have received requests to explain why I voted for Sharon Gentry as School Board Chair. I read a statement on the floor on Tuesday that is really the foundation of what I believe and why I ran. I recognize that my statement was not enough for some, and I also know that some people will never be satisfied with my reasoning, no matter how much detail I give. I will say this:
I respect Amy Frogge and her commitment to the issues and causes that she believes are important in education in Nashville and beyond. Her loyal following and her ability to mobilize advocates impress me. I believe that if you want to see change, get in the ring and do the hard work. She has done that and I admire her for her tenacity. Our views on education, and what we believe needs to happen for our schools in Nashville, just happen to be on opposite ends of the education continuum.
If you want to know more about my career, what I have done and what I believe, take a look at the op-eds I have written, or the articles that have been written about me, over my career. I have never wavered from a belief in accountability, on many fronts, and have spoken and written at length about my educational philosophy. If you know me, or if you followed my campaign or read this blog, you should not be surprised by my vote on Tuesday night.
It is easy to say that my vote for Sharon Gentry was a referendum on Shawn Joseph. I saw my vote as about much more than that. While not a perfect board chair in the past, I feel that her orientation and her approach to leading are what are needed at this time. I was asked numerous times during my run about what I thought of Dr. Joseph and his leadership to date. I answered the question honestly, and so did my opponent. I knew that I was not privy to all of the information I needed to make a complete assessment of his tenure, but I also spoke frankly of my concerns about issues like the budget, HR issues, and most especially about achievement. I also said we needed to have measured, fair, and transparent conversations about where we are and where we need to correct course. I still believe that, and will push for that as a board member. You can see my answer to the question about Dr. Joseph, as well as my opponent’s answer, on our Channel 5+ forum the night before my election. The next day I won by an almost a 2:1 margin, and I believe that my message resonated with District 8.
Dr. Gentry is one of nine board members, and it is incumbent on all of us to help her perform her duties in a transparent, thoughtful and collaborative manner, and I plan to be an active voice and presence on and off the floor. I hope you will give me, and the Board, time to settle into this new chapter, and will continue to reach out with questions. I am always open to conversation about how we improve our system for students, and how we make MNPS the best place to work in our city.
I’m in it for the long haul, and look forward to continuing the conversation.
I read this on the floor of the Board during my first board meeting on September 11, 2018.
I would like to take a moment to make a statement about my beliefs and my vision for my term on this board.
I’m tremendously honored to be here, and to be entrusted with the responsibility of helping guide the direction of Metro Nashville Public Schools. I have spent my career in the trenches, starting as a substitute teacher, and moving from the classroom all the way to central office. I have dedicated my professional, and much of my personal life, to helping children, families and communities.
I ask each of you to judge my votes, and the actions that I take as a board member, through the prism of my values and beliefs about children, about educators, and about Nashville.
I believe that our focus and priority should be on student achievement and success, and that all other facets of the operation of this district, whether they are the creation of a budget, of our HR practices, or our operational functions or curricular decisions, or the evaluation of our Director of Schools, should always be judged by how they will impact student success.
I understand that there is a lack of confidence in TNReady scores, but take a close look at any metric, whether it is student proficiency on MAP tests, English Learner progress on WIDA ACCESS, the percent of 3rd graders reading on grade level, or the number of our schools in the bottom 10% of the state, college readiness on ACT scores, and the number of our graduates receiving a post-secondary degree, and the consensus must be that we are leaving far too many students behind. That we have not done all that we can do.
I hope we can restore a sense of urgency around student outcomes, and resist the urge get mired in conversations that can distract us, or place blame elsewhere. We are easily distracted by conflict between adults, or in assumptions about student ability, or whether our families value education, or whether the poverty we see is just too much to overcome.
I believe an effective board follows a model of informed and balanced governance, meaning that we should discourage micromanaging on one end of the continuum, and rubber-stamping on the other. Informed and balanced governance means that our oversight of the Director of Schools and his team requires us to set and monitor ambitious goals for student learning, and to have a informed understanding of the levers and strategies used to achieve our student learning goals. You must rightfully judge every action we take on whether we are moving the needle on those metrics.
And I believe in the concept of reciprocity of accountability – meaning that if we are in a position to hold the Director and his team accountable for accomplishing goals we have set for him, that we must also be held accountable for our ability to work together, to use data to inform our work, of using evidence in our decisions, and of pushing for innovation, collaboration, and results-focused strategies. But we must resist the urge to have an all or nothing set of criteria – knowing that we will make good progress in some areas, and need to double down or change course in others. We must own our mistakes when we make them, look our staff, students and families in the eye and tell them how we will make them right.
You can count on me to look at the evidence, to gather the latest research and consult experts before I make a decision. You may not always agree with the decisions I make, or votes that I take, but I commit to doing my homework and staying true to the values that I laid out when I decided to run for office. I will never make a decision in isolation, and will always welcome input and ideas.
I will celebrate and call out success in our schools, and press for us to replicate those great strategies. But I will also call out issues and ask the very hard, even painful questions, when I think we have not done enough.
I see my job as speaking up for our students, and that will make the adults uncomfortable sometimes. And I will remain focused on helping my fellow board members succeed, and do what I can to increase our effectiveness, and do my part to build a culture of mutual respect and collaboration, so that our children and our staff can excel, and our city can thrive.