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My School of Thought…on 2019 and What’s Next

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:

  • to the students of MNPS that I have met over the past year – their experiences and aspirations are central to my work and guide every vote I take
  • to our district staff – from the hardworking teachers, staff and principals in schools, to those that take care of our buildings, drive our buses, and lead our district – I salute each of them for the love and care they show the children of Nashville every day
  • to our community partners – their work in our schools makes all the difference in the world
  • to the advocates – the ones that push the Board to face tough issues – advocates like NOAH, neighborhood associations, parents, labor, charter leaders, teachers, and students. I thank you for making your voice heard! 
  • to my board colleagues – the complexity of our task and the difficult and long-lasting decisions we make are not for the faint of heart. We may not agree on every issue, but I committed to collegiality and mutual respect, which have been graciously reciprocated
  • to my family – to Eddie for the eternal support, to my parents for watching the meetings (!), and to my kids who inspire me every day. Gracias to all of you.

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!

-Gini

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 gini@giniforschools.com 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