After thirty months of observing the director of schools’ performance and intense media scrutiny, sometimes writing in support of the man and other times throwing shade on his administration, my effort to rise above the fray and focus on the children recently fell victim to the noise.

It got personal.

I wrote that tweet and a companion Facebook post after last week’s story by Nashville’s CBS-affiliate investigative journalist Phil Williams blasting Metro Schools’ director Dr. Shawn Joseph for violating the contract process after awarding a one million dollar no-bid contract to a vendor he worked with in Prince George’s County, MD. A few days before the contract story, Williams refreshed a story about Dr. Joseph using a school bus driver to chauffeur him around the city during a time when the district was short on school bus drivers. In addition to the hard-hitting reports, I’d spent the prior weekend reading Facebook comments made by Dr. Joseph supporters who believe he is being unfairly targeted. That Dr. Joseph also happens to Nashville’s first black director of schools adds a layer of difficulty to the heap of madness. Because, yes, it matters.

Here’s my honest and conflicted hot take: Media and a small but loud contingent began scrutinizing the director before he had the chance to unpack boxes from Maryland. Until last year’s budget discussions (February 2018), he had the full support of the board, but board/director relations and public opinion went all the way left when Amy Frogge and Jill Speering abandoned their support and participated in public admonishment of the director’s leadership. Dr. Joseph’s efforts to defend himself, mishandling personnel matters, and toxic engagement with board members piled on a mountain of insult to injury.

giphy-downsizedBecause of how I see the situation, I’ve been chided in private for joining the chorus of white voices who are out to get our “brotha” and publicly accused of caping for him because he’s black. I’ve supported Dr. Joseph because our community desperately needs him to succeed, but my support doesn’t come without accountability. It is truly about the kids.

The State of Black Nashville

Look, since the beginning, I have complained about the searing spotlight on the district’s first black director of schools. But to be brutally honest, my real concern has more to do with what this controversy tells us about being black in Nashville. New Nashville loves to think itself a progressive city when in reality our neighborhoods are largely racially segregated and the gaps in wealth, educational attainment, and high-paying jobs paint an anti-progressive picture. The most recent public discourse around the director of schools unveils our dark secret. We are a racially divided mess. But because Democrats run the show and we have a few black elected officials, there is an appearance of racial harmony and equality. Dr. Joseph’s hiring added to the facade.

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 5.33.55 PMNaturally, many felt a sense of racial pride when the board hired the first black director of schools, a walking, breathing model of educational attainment, leadership, and hope. Dr. Joseph’s hiring set a benchmark by which we, Black Nashville, would measure future success. Our children of color, black boys, in particular, could see a real-life connection between school and possibility. So to read Dr. Joseph’s detractors insist it’s about incompetence yet berate anyone who believes his race is a factor, one must evaluate our progress on the spectrum of racial reconciliation.

It was just one month ago, the year’s first school board meeting was standing room only after a robust public campaign within the black community requesting a large showing in support of the embattled director. The group was also pissed about a text sent by board member Speering suggesting teachers and parents show up at the board meeting in masks to protest the director’s job. At that meeting, school board member Christiane Buggs, who is black, was visibly upset as she reminded everyone of this country’s history of mask-wearing domestic terrorists. Immediately, she was criticized for playing the race card! That we are fighting for Dr. Joseph’s blackness — our value in this city — and screaming to be heard against mostly white opposition is tragically reminiscent of 1950’s racial politics.

Job For Sale

Espresso Your ArtSadly, this is what we will be selling to the next slate of candidates for the director of schools when the time comes. Dr. Joseph will, no doubt, leave Nashville and move on to less divisive pastures. Meanwhile, we will be here, fractured, pretending race is not a thing and without a serious plan or real interest in helping the 10,000 students, 62% black and 24% Hispanic, in Nashville’s twenty-one schools that scored in the bottom five percent in the state. Worse, the school board is too shattered to pivot from the current mood as it is ripe with competing agendas, lack of focus, and internal strife. Zack Barnes shares a sad example of the public battles between members in his weekly Tip Sheet. Who wants that job?

Do The Right Thing… For The Kids

At the end of the month, the school board will vote on whether or not to extend Dr. Joseph’s contract — a full year and a half before its expiration date. At that time, we will find out if the board has enough confidence in Dr. Joseph to successfully lead this district past 2020.

Even as the blackness of the matter is important to the black community and should be to the entire city, we simply cannot turn a blind eye to the problems. As I see it, and painfully so, there is no path to redemption.

School Board: Save our students and spare this city further division. Either support the director or pay out his contract.


  1. Chris here’s your answer. Show up to the next board meeting and ask the board. I hope you get your answer. If not, show up to the next one and the next one and keep asking them your questions until you get your answers. Your answers will be incomplete without also asking the parents who choose to move their children to the suburbs, privates, magnets, parochials, home schools, etc. these questions. Then ask the parents who choose to have their children remain in zoned schools what you can do to help improve their children’s educational paths. From your answers, be about action and not just typed conversation. One love…


    1. Thanks Dia. We have never ever (ever!) gotten answers from the Board to the question of what should become of children left behind in zoned schools, or the related question of “What are zoned schools supposed to do to ‘compete’ with Valor Charter, Meigs, and Hume Fogg?”. And, YES, I’ve spoken at a dozen different Board meetings to ask this question, in different ways. When I co-chaired the Hillsboro Customer Parent Advisory Council, I had the great fortune to meet with many parents all over the city and ask these questions. I heard concerns around discipline and lack of college prep academics at zoned high schools. We also learned that across the city, 40% of Nashville families leave zoned schools after 4th grade.

      Prior to that, we looked at theflight from JT Moore Middle to Valor Charter, and Meigs Magnet. We asked parents if they would like to stay at JT Moore Middle through 8th grade, and their answer, by about 2/3, was that _YES_, they would prefer to stay at JT Moore through 8th grade, but the auto-pathways system forces them to give up slots at score-segregated Hume Fogg/MLK if they remain at integrated JT Moore through 8th.

      Putting that all together, we presented our findings to Dr. Joseph’sTransition Team Choice Committee. That team was a dedicated group of hard-working cross-town thinkers – and they came up with a menu of great proposals to support academics and diversity. One that even most magnet parents agree with is that the slots at Hume Fogg and MLK should be allocated on geographical basis, to honor the school’s original 1981 goal of racial diversity which was enforced by two separate lotteries for white and African-American students until 1999.

      To the question though, I think our city’s inability to answer that question may in itself be the answer, which is that for poor kids in zoned schools, our best strategy is to simply pretend they do not exist. That’s not a satisfactory to me. But, it is the only answer we’re left with in light of policies, speeches, and history.


  2. Your passion for privatization and school choice resonates strongly with this article a friend just sent.

    EVERY attentive parent wants their kids away from the disruptive and violent behavior that the PASSAGE team uncovered and documented in our schools.

    But, the societal question, and problem remains. When we white liberals flee for score-segregated magnet schools, private schools, and Williamson county… When African Americans flee for charter schools, what is supposed to happen to the kids left behind in zoned schools? No one has answered that yet.

    I hope you will write a blog about your answer to that question. Thanks for considering a blog post titled: “My child is OK at a charter or score-segregated magnet. Now here’s what I aspire for your child.”


    1. Interested that you are attempting to layer on the guilt of someone who attended the same struggling schools that are struggling today, 30 years later. How about you redirect that nonsense to the powers that keep marginalized populations disenfranchised for generations?


      1. If my question is nonsense, that it makes no sense for me to redirect it to anyone. I think the question is reasonable. Perhaps it is better rephrased as “What should become of students in Nashville public schools whose parents are not opting out of zoned schools?” That question has nothing to do with guilt. It is a question about what should happen for a very real set of living, breathing, and often low-scoring kids, on the ground, in Nashville.

        Disenfranchisement of marginalized populations has so many agents and avenues! I can only point fingers at myself, and those in our local government, and that is enough for a lifetime of activism. For me, “disenfranchisement” is not too different from “abandonment”.

        If our MNPS Board and Directory were to take a stand against abandonment, then they’d obviously allow students in zoned (integrated) middle schools to stay together in grades 5 to 8 and then complete on equal footing for the score-segregated slots at Hume Fogg and MLK. Instead, our Board clings to an antiquated two-high school model for Nashville, with selection to auto-pathway schools based on hyper-segregating 3rd grade test scores. We know this policy is ridiculous, because kids at score-segregated magnets gain nothing academically from their experiences in those low-discipline-referral environments, and because kids of color are disproportionately left behind by these test screens.

        These terrible score-segregated-middle to segregated-high school auto-pathways of 1999 were voted in within a month after courts lets go of the district. While cutting those auto-pathways would obviously bolster middle school experiences for thousands of our children, this simple step is not on the immediate agenda of our segregation-obsessed Board or Administration.

        However, they DO have a transition plan in front of them that will help things a little. If our Board and Administration will not execute against even their own tepid plans to promote improved schools for all children, I’m not sure why we citizens to bother to advocate(redirect questions) for anything much.

        It’s been a year. We need an update.

        So, to answer _your_ question. I “redirect my question to the powers…” by pointing them and re-pointing them at every chance… to their own strategic plan which is yet unimplemented.

        I ALSO beg our mayor to undo my ridiculous $1,200 annual property tax cut…….

        But I need your guidance in making my answer better! What _else_ would you have me do? I’m all ears!


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