East Nashville High School Students #Resist Tweeting Teacher* Through Self-Love

I can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of cultivating and celebrating, Lyn Rushton, an art teacher* at East Nashville Magnet High School used an alternative Twitter account to mock and spew hatred for her students. I imagine some of you will protest my use of the word hate and I get it — it is a strong word. So, I’ll do you a solid by providing you a set list of this teacher’s* greatest hits and allow you to decide:

“The ghettoness of some of my students just sickens me beyond belief.”

“I wish I could carry around a stamp at school to put “worthless a*******” across their heads.”

“I take fashion advice from my students. If they wear it, I don’t.”

According to a friend, a parent at East Nashville, a student discovered the art teacher’s* tweets after a search revealed his name as the subject of one of her hate storms. This particular tweet went after students with creative names like, say, Vesia.

A little background: East Nashville Magnet High School is one of Nashville’s shining examples of success with an annual graduation of 100%. The student population is 45% economically disadvantaged and 85% Black. I only mention the last two data points to inform my earlier assertion of hate.

The Problem

If you are black or poor or black and poor, society does its dead-level best to devalue you. How many advertisements promoting social, physical, and financial success include brown women, men and children? Then add a layer of community distress where there are few, if any, glimmers of hope, examples of resurrection.

But when society and the community lets them down, generally, the babies can count on their schools to get it right for them. After all, schools are safe places filled with adults who are there because they choose to be, because they love working with children.


Teachers have enormous power over students’ personal and educational lives. We all have a story within us about the teacher who pushed us toward success and loved us in spite of ourselves. So if a great teacher has the potential to have a lifelong positive influence, imagine the power of a dud.

I can’t shake the idea of those students entering Rushton’s art class fully expecting an adult who will help them realize their greatest potential and provide the instruction to get them there. Instead, they were saddled with a fraud who used them as some kind of social experiment to mock and use for Twitter content. How effective a teacher could she have been?

The Students, Though

In an authentic act of resistance (unlike the hashtag), the students did something rarely seen or celebrated. Those beautiful babies realized the very power the teacher* worked so hard to extinguish and called out her hate by celebrating their worth.

“I don’t want a name like everybody else! I love my name… I don’t care if I walk into a job interview and they don’t like my name because it’s a black name. I love my name!”

And that gets a resounding AMEN from this chick named Vesia.  A loving shout out to the students at East Nashville Magnet High.

 * denotes that the teacher is both fraudulent and former. 

This Nashville Rocketship School is Spreading the Love Through Gratitude

Written by Tatum Schultz, 3rd grade teacher at Rocketship United Academy in Nashville. 

Every language in the world has a way of saying “thank you.” Gratitude is an inherent quality that resides deep within each one of us. It is triggered by different events and crosses the boundaries of race, age and gender. Gratitude comes from the heart. It is an acknowledgment of the positive things that we feel in our soul. When we give gratitude, we give a gift freely and unearned.

At Rocketship United Academy, our leaders, teachers and support staff are dedicated to sharing gratitude. Within our halls a positive culture thrives. Every Rocketship school has five core values and four are shared across our network: respect, responsibility, empathy and persistence. Rocketeers recite these shared values in their Rocketeer creed each day and live them out at school and in their community.

A COMMUNITY THAT SHARES A DESIRE TO EXCEED EXPECTATIONS.We build on these core values and allow our Rocketeers to grow in a community that shares a desire to exceed expectations.

The fifth core value of each school is chosen by parents and teachers as the value that best illustrates that school’s unique character and vision. Fifth core values range from service to bravery to curiosity to ganas.

Our core values fit within our mission to prepare our students to thrive in school and beyond by equipping them with critical character skills. Many of our students come from high-poverty communities. Research shows that children living in these communities experience more “toxic stress” than children living in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods. Toxic stress makes it difficult for children to manage their emotions, resolve conflicts and respond to provocations.

That is why we create a consistent, predictable and positive school experience that helps our students develop the social-emotional skills they need to succeed in the classroom and beyond.

Our instructional programs include social-emotional learning curricula taught roughly three times a week in morning community meetings. We utilize carefully-selected curricula differentiated for lower- and upper-grade students.

In our younger grades, we use the Kimochis curriculum which is centered on five characters with unique temperaments and personalities, designed to give students depersonalized opportunities to practice the skills to recognize their emotions, demonstrate care for others, establish positive relationships, make responsible decisions and handle challenging situations. The characters act as a safe third-party that students can relate to as they consider their own strengths and development areas. Students in upper grades use RULER tools to track their behaviors, feelings and progress in a mood journal.

In the beginning of February, we decided to roll out our fifth core value: gratitude. Our school picked this value because we thought it was a characteristic that would make our students stronger as well as build strong relationships with their peers and teachers. When we introduced gratitude, it was just a word, but now it is a feeling that will touch your soul when you walk through the front doors of a Rocketship school.

Gratitude Grams were an idea that our Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support (PBIS) team launched to further our social-emotional teaching and let our students express themselves. We thought it would give our children a vehicle to show their thanks and appreciation; to give appreciation and kindness to others. Every day, for seven days, students were given a half sheet of colored paper with a different student’s name on it. Their responsibility was to watch gratitude spread.

JUST LIKE THAT, GRATITUDE GREW THROUGH THE HALLS OF ROCKETSHIP UNITED ACADEMY.They had to write one sentence thanking that student for something they had done or they could capture appreciation for them as a peer. At the end of seven days, the students would receive their own name and could read what seven other students appreciated about them. And just like that, gratitude grew through the halls of Rocketship United Academy.

Gratitude is not just a feeling deep inside, it is choice that we make every day at Rocketship. It is an attitude we adopt and one we freely give to the children we meet each day. The habits of kindness never grow old or tiresome, they are renewed each day with a smile and open heart. To give gratitude freely is the energizing spirit that is harnessed each day in the classrooms of Rocketship.

An original version of this post appeared on the Rocketship blog as Gratitude is a Choice We Make Every Day and Education Post. 

When Racial Groups Self-Segregate and Its Effect on Schools and Neighborhoods

“Where can I live where there are no Black people?”

It was nearly twenty years ago, I was working at the Nashville Chamber of Commerce when a lady preparing to relocate called to get demographic information. We had a delightful conversation about Nashville’s growth, how the cost of living was below the U.S average, and with two small babies of my own, I assured the potential newcomer that Nashville was the perfect place to raise a family.

But near the end of our call, she needed to know specific places to move where there would be no signs of the likes of me, the nice Chamber of Commerce employee whose “sista-ness” she somehow missed. Without missing a beat, I directed her to my neighborhood and told her how much I would love to be her neighbor. I remember that phone call like it just happened because it hurt like hell.

So many lessons learned from that seven minute conversation, but it was then I realized people actually placed priority on the color of their neighbors over the color of the house. Whether they admit it or even realize it.

But is it not human to find security in familiarity? Is this not why we seek to join membership organizations that allow us to move and speak freely with perceived like-minded individuals without having to put in the work of getting to know them? I won’t explain away behavior like the racist lady on the phone call, but people have a right to live where they want.

In the two articles referenced below, the authors call out white people for self-segregation in the areas of schools and neighborhoods (which are interconnected). Because I’ve witnessed this for a few years now, the information is not shocking, but it does inform another narrative – school choice.

From my vantage point, it is the middle-to-upper class self-segregated whites who tend to be the biggest opponents of charter schools and the choice movement. So I have a problem when one’s life is rooted in choices/privilege, yet fix their mouths to bash choices offered to those with so few. We will save this for another day.

In this New York Times article by Kate Taylor, we see white families in Manhattan who live in close proximity to a public school but refuse to send their own kids there, one father even calling it “malpractice.” The school is mostly Hispanic and low income with a mediocre performance record.

In the case of P.S. 165, only two in five of the kindergartners who lived in the school’s zone and attended public school were enrolled there in 2015, according to Education Department data. White families disproportionately shun the school: Roughly a third of the public school students who live in the school’s zone are white, but only 13 percent of the school’s students are white. Its test scores, like those at the other district schools where black and Hispanic children are a majority, lag behind.

We see a different narrative with an identical outcome in this Vox article by Alvin Chang where the focus is jobs in a suburb of Minnesota.

But in 1989, the local pork processing plant added 650 jobs and attracted new workers, many of Mexican descent, by giving them one free week of lodging and food.

By the early 1990s, about 5 percent of the town’s population was Mexican. People told their friends and family about these jobs, and more and more Hispanic workers came to Worthington — a phenomenon called chain migration.

By 2010, more than one in three residents were Hispanic.
Unlike the silly lady who called looking for Black-free neighborhoods, most people do not announce their racism and/or classism. We can only surmise that our majority-minority schools and neighborhoods are products of hate. Still, the information is good to have, even if it’s to serve as a mirror. But we will ever love our neighbor as ourselves?

Netflix Series ’13 Reasons Why’ Strikes Nerve with Parents

Netflix has done it again. Doing what it does best by creating a series sure to build up a buzz and bolstering its already ridiculous viewership. This time, though, its parents of impressionable adolescents who are talking about the new series 13 Reasons Why. Bad group to offend.

Here, mom, former teacher and education blogger, Erika Sanzi warns that the new youth-targeted series based on the novel of the same name inadvertently glamorizes suicide and parents should watch with their children.

The entire post by Erika Sanzi originally published through her blog Good School Hunting can be seen below.

Middle schoolers and high schoolers across America are buzzing about the now controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why” which attempts to tackle the painful issue of teen suicide.  Despite its “Mature Audience” rating and despite the serious themes and graphic rape and suicide scenes, many parents are finding themselves behind the eight ball, unaware that the series even exists let alone that their children are watching the thirteen episodes on their phones and tablets, totally cut off from the adults who love them most.

I watched the entire series and while I found it gripping in ways, I became extremely concerned about how tweens and teens who I knew had to be viewing it as well. I did a bit of digging and discovered that indeed, middle schoolers are watching it in droves and others are asking their parents if they can watch it.

This series is no joke. A tenth grader takes her own life, on screen. The scene is graphic and hard to watch. And it is bloody. The premise is that before ending her life, she records 13 cassette tapes for the 13 people she blames for her feeling so hopeless that the only solution she can see is to commit suicide.

The audience sees a series of flashbacks throughout and is able to see what was happening in her life at home and at school before she dies. They also watch the drama that unfolds in the aftermath of her death once the tapes begin making their way through the 13 people she describes.

Mental health experts and suicide prevention groups are already expressing grave concern about the series, claiming that it downplays the issue of suicide and even glamorizes it in a way that could be very dangerous for some kids. They worry about “suicide contagion” too.

Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors.

Articles and television segments about the series are popping up all over the place and resources that provide conversation starters, fact sheets, and tips for parents and educators in dealing with the series are readily available online. Facebook is full of threads of parents discussing the series, expressing concern, and debating whether or not their kids should be allowed to watch it. 

A mental health expert on Good Morning America describes this series as an ‘entry-point’ to the conversation around teen suicide and says that if a parent decides to allow their child to watch the series, they should “co-view” it, with the parent not only watching the show but also watching their child’s reactions to watching it.

The Superintendent of schools in Bedford, New York sent a letter home to all parents in the district. His letter is worth a read since, at least at this point, most parents in America have not received any communication from their children’s schools about the Netflix series.

I am writing today to share concerns about a television series students may be watching. While many consider the video streaming service, Netflix, as “just another TV channel,” it is a paid subscription service and therefore not subjected to the same FCC regulations and content rating system as broadcast TV.

Netflix recently began airing an original series entitled, 13 Reasons Why, based on the young adult book with the same title by Jay Asher. The novel was intended for young adults; however, 13 Reasons Why contains mature subject matter including graphic depictions of rape, substance abuse, cyberbullying, bullying, voyeurism, and suicide. 13 Reasons Why is about a teenager who takes her own life, but before doing so methodically records audio messages for the 13 people she feels in some way played a role in her decision to commit suicide.

This series has been available on Netflix since the end of March. Former Disney child star, Selena Gomez, is credited as a producer. With her name attached, 13 Reasons Why may reach a much younger audience than anticipated. Middle and High School students are likely aware of the series and may have even watched some, or all, of the episodes.

It is important for you to be cognizant of its availability, allure, content, and popularity. The series romanticizes suicide as a viable option, portrays school support staff as being non-responsive to students in need, and does not offer any appropriate responses or advice for students who may be in crisis.

Producers are portraying the series as an “important dialogue.”

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) cautions that its powerful storytelling may lead impressionable viewers to sensationalize the choices made by the characters and/or develop revenge fantasies.

Caring for the well-being of young children and teens is most effective when schools and parents work together. This letter is written with the hope that with informed guidance from parents and trusted adults, students will make healthy decisions regarding their young lives. Series such as this can be thought-provoking but, they can also do harm. It is highly recommended that if your child is interested in the program, you consider watching it with them in order to give the supporting guidance that suicide is never an answer, and the blame for suicide does NOT belong to others.

If you wish to have a dialogue with your child(ren) about 13 Reasons Why, I have listed the following resources from mental health organizations to assist you in your discussion. I have also included two trailers for the show that you may find useful in becoming fully informed about this series.

Must We Politicize the Top High Schools Ranking To Advance School Choice?

Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

Honestly folks, you can’t talk about education these days without defending your love or disdain for school choice. Sure, there are varying levels of support and opposition on either side, but bets are a position will be taken and its honor will be fiercely defended.

Typically, the battle gets heated when the notion of charter schools rears its controversial head. I’ve yet to understand why the subject creates so much ill will – like authentic hate – but it’s reality. Because of this charter supporters spend a lot of time on defense, allowing them to operate as swiftly and powerfully as former NFL DB Troy Polamalu. Standing on ready to own every opportunity.

So upon learning that nine of the top 10 high schools in the United States are either charter or magnet, school choice supporters naturally (and relentlessly) celebrated this win for the choice movement.

But my friend Kerry-Ann Royes, a parent in south Florida, is not pleased.

Originally posted by Kerry-Ann Royes on her blog FacesOfEducation.org, April 27, 2017.

I’m so mad I could spit nails. Today US News and World Report released the 2017 Ranking on Top Public High Schools. And all of a sudden every one is all aglow about charters dominating the list.

Listen, I’m all for charter schools.  I’m all for ANY quality school that meets my child’s needs and believes they can excel. Key word? QUALITY. Even charter school leader Mike Weinberg recently expressed the same sentiment in a recent article.  No parent cares what type of school, just make it a good one!

So, I’m not mad at the fact that charters dominate the list. But the continued positioning, jockeying and spinning results for “who does it best,” while only telling parent a part of the story deserves to be straight-up called out.

Here’s what Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, had to say:

“It points to the fact that if you allow educators the autonomy to run their schools and allow families to make selections, those schools perform better academically and meet the needs of their student populations better than if you try to fit families under a one-size-fits-all monopoly.”

Now, a parent reading this would simply run out and start searching for the nearest charter school. But this is NOT about charters or traditional public schools! If you really want parents to have real choices, then tell the whole story so they can make educated decisions.

Charters should level disparities by using their powers of agility and autonomy to cut through the bureaucratic nonsense and provide outcomes for kids who are being failed. They should help school systems that are not making it happen for all kids. We should work together to eliminate gaps.

So, here’s the missing part of the story

These top charters are not filling any gaps. Yes, they are great schools. But if you take just a second to dive into the readily-available data you will find a more complete picture.

Let’s take the #1 school on the list: BASIS Scottsdale. Though the school demographic is similar to that of its city, Scottsdale Arizona, it is dramatically different in the over-representation of Asia students (6% in the city, 27% in BASIS). There is also a vast under-representation of African-American (2.7% in the city, .05% in BASIS) and Hispanic students (15.4% in the city, 2.3% BASIS).

BASIS achievement gap by ethnicity is dramatic. Of this underrepresented group of African-American or Hispanic students, virtually none enrolled in any AP classes or took college entrance exams. And, African-American student perform at half the proficiency of their Asian and Caucasian peers in both Math and English Language Arts.

So, let’s be clear. This is not apples to apples; no disparities have been leveled. That doesn’t mean these high schools may not be a great choice for your family. But, shame on those using this as a political ploy. Focus on our kids and how we can work together, and stop playing us against each other.

Black Teachers Really Matter In The Lives of Black Students

A recent Johns Hopkins University study concluded that Black students with at least one Black teacher in their school careers are more likely to graduate high school and consider college enrollment. That having just one teacher that looks like them informs a student’s educational future is a powerful conclusion.

Since the release of this study, there have been several companion pieces supporting the importance of Black teachers as well as the need to recruit Black male teachers. Across the country there is a shortage of Black men going into the teaching field and places like Detroit and Philadelphia are working hard to reverse the trend.

Then there are people like Jason Terrell and Mario Jovan Shaw with intimate knowledge about the shortage of Black male teachers and decided to do something about it. The Teach for America alums built a cradle-to-career mentorship program, Profound Gentlemen, specifically for Black males. Did I mention this little gem produced a spot for Terrell and Shaw on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list?

Now, take a few minutes to walk through this interview with a Chicago principal as he explains the importance of Black boys visualizing their potential through Black male teachers and leaders.

Finally, the most powerful read comes from David Jackson, a New York high school teacher.  In this New York Times editorial, Jackson explains with great compassion the value of a Black teacher in the lives of Black students.

The fact that my skin color matches that of my students doesn’t give me any superpowers as an educator. But it does give me the ability to see them in a way that’s untarnished by the stereotypes, biases and cultural disconnects that fuel inequality and injustice — like the outlook that made Trayvon Martin, carrying Skittles, appear dangerously suspicious to the man who took his life. Like the assumptions that studies show make people see black boys as less innocent than their white peers.

Something to think about…

Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated

In recent years, Nashville has been at the top of many lists: friendliest, best music life, growing food scene, and one of the best places to live and work. Yes, from the looks of it, Nashville is the place to be, the It City (another list); the kind of place big cities want to emulate and small towns want to become. Thanks to these lists Nashville’s welcome mat is worn to shreds from the 100 relocations per day.

But a stroll out to the margins and one is smacked with the reality of people and places in the shadows that fail to make it the glossy pages.

In early April, Metro Social Services released its annual Community Needs Evaluation to show people a city they might never see otherwise. The 200-page report is a shocking revelation of the underbelly of the Nashville we see on TV and in magazines. If a city is only as good as it’s weakest population, Nashville has serious work to do.

Nashville, the Beautiful

File_000Entering the core of Nashville, one can’t help but take in the breathtaking skyline with the Batman Building at its peak surrounded by dozens of cranes signifying growth, hope. But below the cranes in the area immediately surrounding the core, the flags of poverty are impossible to avoid.

We know poverty does not discriminate, but people of color are suffering disproportionately and the city has been successful concealing these exemptions from prosperity.

The greatest barriers to Nashville’s promised land for too many of its residents are housing, mass incarceration, and failure to an excellent education to every child.

Housing Crisis

Nashville is the sixth-fastest gentrifying city in the nation and 12.9% of its families live in poverty, which is higher than both state and national averages. As a result, the city suffers under the weight of an affordable housing crisis (better known as a “shortage”) forcing families to pay higher rents or experience varying degrees of homelessness.

In the Grassroots Community Survey provided in the Metro Social Services report, nearly 60% of respondents believe the greatest gap between services offered and services needed was housing. This result is not surprising when the median gross rent is $924 attached to an ever-decreasing supply and burgeoning demand. Meanwhile, the vast majority of renters are people of color who also tend to earn significantly less.

The family that spends 30% or more of its income in housing expenses is cost burdened which includes nearly 45,000 households earning under $35,000. Not to mention approximately 25,000 of those families spend 50% or more on housing expenses. These families become nomadic, moving often in search of cheaper rent, sacrificing their children’s educational attainment, safety, and proximity to social services.


File_000 (2)We’ve become comfortable with using “school-to-prison pipeline” to label our society’s fascination with throwing the book at black men and women for the smallest infractions. At the Metro Social Services report release, public defender Dawn Deaner aptly called it the “birth to prison” pipeline. It certainly looks that way. This culture of incarceration is not unique to Nashville but in no way is the “it city” exempt.

In Tennessee, 43% of the felony population is Black, a group that makes up 16% of the state’s population. Though unable to find actual data on Nashville’s incarceration stats, all one has to do is look to local media to get an idea of who is being locked up at an alarming rate.

Part of the problem of mass incarceration is that it negatively impacts other areas such as family strength, employment, earning potential, healthy communities, and children’s educational attainment.


img_0993Yes, education is the civil rights issue of our time, but there’s no time to wait for everyone to agree to disagree. While teachers fight for respect, unions strike for salaries, ed reformers battle for validation, and parent’s scrap to be heard, children’s educational possibilities are circling the drain.

In 2016, only 11 percent of Nashville’s students were college-ready and only 34 percent of 3rd graders could read at grade level. At an event announcing the launch of a new literacy initiative in March, Nashville’s Mayor Megan Barry said, “Reading at grade level is a major indicator for a child’s academic success, and a child’s academic success is a strong indicator for the future of Nashville.”

Unfortunately, literacy is not the worst of the issues within Nashville’s schools. Around the country, schools are plagued by the dysfunction of the communities around them. Education is the lone institution where every societal ill gathers under one roof, turning schools into social service centers while trying to be high-achieving places of learning.

Children take to school the situations in which they live. Metro Schools’ poverty rate is more than 70 percent and we’ve established a few of the issues within our disenfranchised populations. In addition to the lack of affordable housing and mass incarceration, our schools must also work with high student mobility, food insecurity, mental and physical illnesses, acculturating new Americans, and abused children—just to list a few.

The Great Paradox

File_000 (1)Is it possible for Nashville to be one of the greatest cities in the United States when its marginalized citizens are not only becoming more vulnerable, but increasing in number? Our city is experiencing the largest apartment construction in America while our homelessness population spiked by 10 percent in 2016 – the 6th largest increase in the nation.

We have nationally ranked high performing magnet schools and schools where 85% of children struggle to read at grade level. The city is a virtual revolving door, welcoming new thousands of new residents per month while rolling out the undesirables to jails and other counties.

Don’t misunderstand me, these issues are not being completely ignored.  For instance, the Barnes Housing Fund and literacy initiative created by Mayor Barry are valiant efforts to mitigate affordable housing and reading deficiencies. Schools are working more intentionally with discipline in an effort to dismantle to the school-to-prison pipeline and programs can be found around the county to help with recidivism and inmate education. Finally, Metro Schools’ openness to offering non-traditional options (charters, alternative graduation and curriculum programs) has been good for students.

Something’s Amiss

Urgency. My frustration and impatience are at a tipping point because of my daily interaction with the other side of Nashville where many of my loved ones reside. The baby whose brilliance is scheduled to be extinguished by a list of odds experts are sure he can’t surmount. A close family member who fell on hard times and cannot find housing. The cousin who has spent his entire adult life caught up in the web of the criminal justice system creating a nearly impossible situation for his children and parents.

I wish I had the salve to quickly heal the ails of the marginalized and march them toward the middle. I wish Nashville’s greatness was felt by all of its citizens. I wish decisions were fueled by the same urgency and compassion when considering the fate of family member. I wish every school offered a nationally ranked education. I wish…