When You Should Be Watching the Pasture, But Rather Play in the Weeds

After witnessing a particularly uncharacteristic tweetstorm fired off by former Metro Schools communications director Joe Bass (a former colleague) about behavior unbecoming an elected official, I feel compelled to remind some and inform others about the role of a school board member. Because when we don’t stay in our respective lanes, children lose.


First published on Volume and Light February 2017.

Michael Casserly, Executive Director of The Council of the Great City Schools paid a Valentines Day visit to the Nashville School Board to establish an effective evaluation process by which to assess their one and only employee, director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph.

Jason Gonzales of The Tennessean, smartly captured Casserly’s most searing advice “If you start saying who he should hire or which programs he should adopt … the board forfeits the role to hold him accountable.” While this not the story of the day, I will never miss an opportunity to introduce to some and reinforce to others the school board’s governing framework. But, again, board responsibility is not the story du jour.

Straight A’s

According to The Tennessean, the battle-tested director received glowing accolades accompanied by a string of perfect grades. I’m silly happy for the director of schools after a rocky start with what appeared to be a collusion between certain media types and internal saboteurs. Now, eight months into his tenure, board members are singing his praises for making good on promises.  School board member Mary Pierce posted on Facebook, “He clearly laid out his plan, and then executed it.”

With that said, I’m grateful to the school board for standing by their man by allowing him the space required to build and roll out a plan. I am also pleased to see a united front. Unfortunately, I’ve been around long enough to witness blissful honeymoons fade into bloody battles overnight. Yes, overnight. So, I’m cautiously optimistic — just shy of being a negative ninny.

From the Fire

Effective Valentines Day, the honeymoon ends and the hard part begins. Henceforth, Dr. Joseph will be evaluated by student achievement and, let’s not forget, charter schools applications are due April 1. These things matter. Big time. Student achievement and charter schools have proved fatal to the tenures of Nashville’s last two directors of schools. Just saying.

You might be thinking “she is expecting them to fail!” Au contraire, my sista. I’d love nothing more than to see this board stick it out for the long haul, but again, I’ve seen too much. The battlefield is too enticing. I can’t help but think of the W.B. Yeat’s poem The Second Coming (of which I learned through Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart) where he morosely acknowledges “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.” I guess I am a negative ninny.

Into the Frying Pan

Expect to see lots of chatter about charter applicants and watch for darts thrown by community members seeking a seat on the board in 2018 (these darts actually launched in 2016). Despite these distractions, always be mindful that part of the school board’s job is to allow the director to do his. Also, unless Dr. Joseph commits some fatal sin, remember the honeymoon through the tough times. Remember the straight A’s. Remember the extensive outreach to families, teachers and community.

If we are prepared, we don’t have to succumb to the inevitable.

Note to 2018 School Board Candidates

The school board has three (3) responsibilities:

  1. Pass the budget
  2. Govern through policy
  3. Hire, evaluate, and fire their one and only employee

You’re welcome.


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