A Nashville Charter School Shares the Love With District Teachers #RelationshipGoals

Starting in the fall Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools will add coding to its middle school curriculum. Coding is the language of the digital world we all find ourselves, especially our youth, and now middle schoolers will be experts in what it takes to make computers and phones communicate, putting them at a great advantage.

In addition to stepping outside the traditional offerings of reading and math (and variations thereof), I appreciate the effort the district is making to curb the predictable fourth-grade leap. Historically, Metro Schools suffers a huge loss of middle to upper-class families at the end of fourth grade and another enrollment drop just before high school.

While coding alone will not keep the middle class from rolling out in search of high-performing magnets and private schools, it is a step in the right direction. It is also worth noting the urgency with which the district is implementing the classes, offering coding at all middle schools as opposed to a few at a time – as it’s known to do.

But, perhaps, the most thrilling part of this story is the collaboration between the district and a charter school. You read that right. In Nashville, where we have a few issues on the subject of charters, there is collaborative work happening and our children will benefit greatly (because they get it –it’s about the babies).

RePublic Charter Schools has been teaching coding classes for three years and recently started offering classes to the public free of charge. In a politically risky, but brilliant money-saving (even peace-making) move, the district is tapping into the expertise right in its front yard. More of this, please!

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This is a perfect illustration of why charters even exist. These schools are allowed to operate on the premise of offering innovation in exchange for greater accountability. They are simply a non-traditional option to move students toward greater success. The goals of traditional public schools and charter schools are the same, only the methods differ. So working together not only makes sense it’s expected.

I’m proud of RePublic and the powers at Metro Schools with the foresight to forge this collaboration. I’d love to believe this is beginning of a beautiful relationship, but I know better. In the meantime, I’ll bask in the glow of this shining example of how it should be. #RelationshipGoals

Check out the NPR story on RePublic and Metro Schools

165 Years Later, Frederick Douglass’ Speech Sets America On Fire

The Fourth of July has come and gone but the sting of what it means lingers as I continue to read blog (great one from a Black man’s perspective) after blog (another great perspective from a “conscious American”) validating – even exacerbating – the pain. Our collective awareness of the fragility of Black people in today’s society has never been so heightened, so up close, so real.

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For me, this journey began on the morning of America’s 241st birthday as I spent four hours reading a 165-year-old speech given by self-educated former slave Frederick Douglass. As a Black History minor, I’m sure it had crossed my path before now, but middle-aged me absorbed Douglass’ words like a caged bird inhaling its first unfettered air during its inaugural flight. Indeed, it was liberating, frightening, and overwhelming.

”The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable—and the difficulties to be overcome in getting from the latter to the former, are by no means slight. That I am here to-day is, to me, a matter of astonishment as well as of gratitude.”

While reading his words I imagine Douglass making an appeal to me to join the fight to abolish the enslavement of men (I know by men he means human beings). I’m blown away by the 165-year-old charge that fits snugly into today’s narrative of mass incarceration, a dysfunctional education system, and generational poverty—the vicious trifecta born of the vestiges of slavery and repackaged into a type of modern-day enslavement.

Same Oppression, Different Century

We live in a place founded on the principles of freedom and patriotism and Douglass was calling out the hypocrisy during America’s infancy, as a spry 76-year-old nation. But as a more mature country, the dissonance between the bedrock from which this country sprang and how it treats its Black citizens has not grown up, it just looks different.

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I visualize Douglass standing before hundreds of white men, direct beneficiaries of the Declaration of Independence, captivating them with his expansive vocabulary while taking them on a wild journey from the speech’s mild start to its harsh finish.

Douglass fattens up the audience with celebratory high-caloric affirmations only to set them up for a constitutional slaughter. He lures them, earns their trust with high praise for their forefathers’ vision and then he lowers the hook using against them the very declaration designed to foster freedom all the while promoting the most peculiar of institutions. Douglass relentlessly scolds the framers and their benefactors– letting no one off the hook.

Raw Courage

I’m convinced this is the most brilliant and courageous act against domestic tyranny in the face of domestic tyrants in the history of America.

Picture Douglass—a former slave breaking the law by teaching himself to read and write and escape slavery—speaking his truth and that of his sisters and brothers in bondage to the very group responsible for the injustices. Wild, isn’t it? Incidentally, this visual reminds me of parents who take time from their families—the daily grind of dinner and homework—to appeal to dispassionate, politically motivated elected officials. But I digress.

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In the following excerpt, Douglass blasts the institution of slavery and, I suspect, extinguishing any remaining celebration left in the Patriots on that day. Though he speaks of slavery, the unspoken root of the issue is the wicked inspiration behind America’s enslavement of Blacks — racism.

”It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a by word to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes.”

We are all operating within, around, and in opposition, to institutions that have hate baked into their foundations. So, it is not surprising to me that Frederick Douglass, a man deceased for 122 years was trending on Twitter on July 4, 2017. Douglass’ 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July,” resonates with millions of Americans who find themselves in opposition to the nation’s current political leadership.

The potential loss of healthcare, infringements of rights of those who just want to love and live freely, and the attack on the very institution that informs the American public of these issues, has introduced to some and validated for others the house that hate built. Today’s Americans resonate with the plight of a former slave fighting for others’ freedom at the risk of sacrificing his own. Crazy, right? Not really. The current political reality heightens our awareness of the vulnerabilities of millions of Americans and forces community across lines of race, sexual preference, income, religion, and education. 

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy—a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.”

 
Check out these what these bloggers have to say about what July 4th means to them:

What to a Slave Descendant is Your 4th of July?

What to the Black Man is 4th of July in 2017?

What to the Chicago Principal is Fourth of July?

What to the Conscious American is the 4th of July?

If You Are Silent About My Oppression, You Are My Oppressor! The Hypocrisy of the Status Quo!

Independence Day: More than a Barbeque

“Let America Be the Dream the Dreamers Dreamed” – Love, Langston

by Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free?  Not me?
Surely not me?  The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

From The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, published by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. Copyright © 1994 the Estate of Langston Hughes

10,000+ Nashville Charter School Families Get Official Eviction Notice

This is what happens when politics outranks people.

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A resolution introduced by board member Mary Pierce enforcing the board’s role in advocating for every student (and family) failed in dramatic form this week. The breakdown of the vote on the measure to support ALL families was, unfortunately, not surprising — 4 voting yes, 3 abstaining, 1 refused to vote and 1 absent. But what shocks the system is the message it sends to the families on the other end of the failed motion. A message best explained in a Cee-Lo Green song “although there’s a pain in my chest, I still wish you the best with a F— you.”

There’s not much to add to this story besides petty commentary and that, quite frankly, does nothing for the parents now officially alienated from the school district. However, I do feel the need to amplify one tiny part of the school board’s own policy mandating the elected body to “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.” The failed motion means only one thing for these families, the school board has abdicated its responsibility to serve charter school children and families. Holla!

So, I urge parents to reach out to board members. Express appreciation to the members voting on your behalf and to those who didn’t vote for you respectfully remind them that you’re still part of the family. Like it or not.

“The resolution is not about whether or not our board philosophically supports charter schools — individual members have made positions clear on the board floor and on social media,” Pierce said. “Rather, this is about our service as board members as advocates for the entire district and all the students it serves.”

Please read every word of this resolution.

A resolution declaring the Board of Education’s intent to reaffirm our commitment to our Governing Policy Three: Board Job Description with a specific focus on number Eight: Advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.

WHEREAS, Metro Nashville Public Schools currently serve students in all of the following: traditional zoned district schools for students in grades K-12, open enrollment district schools, pre-kindergarten programs, magnet schools, non-traditional academies, alternative schools, homeschool programs and public charter schools; and

WHEREAS, MNPS educates nearly 88,000 students who come from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, many with diverse learning styles*; and

WHEREAS, MNPS public charter schools, authorized by the MNPS Board of Education, serve almost 10,000 students; and

WHEREAS, the cultural and socio-economic diversity within MNPS public charter schools closely reflects that of the entire district**; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Board of Public Education is committed to providing every student a high-quality education that promotes social and emotional learning and strives for increasing academic achievement; and

WHEREAS these core beliefs are reiterated in the commitment in Governing Policy Three that this Board will “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves;” and

WHEREAS, the Board of Education has been addressed on numerous occasions by parents and others with children enrolled in one of our 28 MNPS Board approved charter schools by way of letters and public comments that they do not feel supported by the totality of the board; and

WHEREAS, these same parents have asked that the Board of Education treat them and their schools with the same courtesy and respect extended to parents and educators in zoned schools, magnet schools, and all other types of schools authorized by the Board of Education; and

WHEREAS, this board has consistently adopted standards that promote collaboration, including the first Annenberg Standard, which states that “Traditional district and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children”; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that in every type of school our organization offers or authorizes, there will be concerns that should be addressed by the Director of Schools and district staff, and RS-2017-3

WHEREAS, at times, advocacy for students and families with concerns might appear to conflict with advocacy for MNPS, it is possible to do so without disparaging the schools, the employees or MNPS, and

WHEREAS, all of our students, and their families, regardless of the schools they attend, deserve to be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education:

  1. Recognizes that our MNPS public charter schools are part of the organization of MNPS and serve the same diverse populations as our other MNPS schools; and
  2. Commits to ensuring its schools remain safe and welcoming places for all students and their families regardless of the type of school they attend; and
  3. Commits to treating students, parents, staff and leaders of MNPS public charter schools with the same respect and civility extended to those in district run schools; and
  4. Commits to handling concerns, issues and sensitive information reported by families or staff from a district charter school in the same discreet, consistent and professional manner as those brought by families or staff from a district-run school; and
  5. Commits to high standards of personal accountability when giving public statements (social media posts, opinion editorials, statements on the board floor, etc.) to ensure the accuracy of information to the best of one’s ability; and
  6. Commits to leading as a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Adopted this 13th day of June 2017.

(NOT ADOPTED)

I’m Declaring My Own Independence From All the Noise. It’s Time to Focus on the Kids.

Y’all, I’ve been stuck in The Sunken Place. But with Fourth of July rapidly approaching, I’m taking the opportunity to climb out.

“Get Out” movie director Jordan Peele created a not-so-mythical mental condition called The Sunken Place, a weird space between being “woke” and physical incapacitation. Knowing better, but for one reason or another, unable to do better. Some may simply call this being Black or Brown in America in 2017.

In an effort to battle my way out of this mental incarceration, I’ve spent the entire month of June on an inspiration safari, my personal journey to freedom. Luckily, after a calendar filled with coffees and lunches with folks who are doing the work, and some quality time with my fellow education bloggers, I’m moving further from The Sunken Place and closer to my truth.

Here’s What Truth Looks Like

Operating in my truth means to build up this platform created specifically to inform and inspire, to lift up Nashville’s marginalized parents, to remind families that neither race nor situation should determine their child’s educational outcome.

Remembering my belief in the magic of an incredible education, the power of an engaged parent, and the importance of a community unwilling to allow even one of its most vulnerable to fail. Confidently understanding this is the trifecta that will bring those on the margins into the center.

We’ve tried the “trust me” relationship with education systems for 150 years. All we got for it was under-educated and under-prepared graduates who feed the social service sector and prisons.
Chris Stewart, education activist and blogger at Citizen Ed

But from The Sunken Place I see the sick political games being played. I witness those with little to lose arrange and rearrange the pieces and change the rules on the backs of poor children. Watch them feed parents a big pile of bullshit and then expect them to happily consume it.  I’ve even seen them humiliate parents who actually had the courage to refuse the bullshit—in a display reminiscent of a public lashing.

Over the years, I have tried to be a team player for all sides of the education debate. But, I learned quickly that in the politics of education, it was expected that parents are supposed to choose a side—either the status quo or education reform—anything but the children!
Gwen Samuel, CT parent activist and blogger

Recently, I joined a couple dozen education bloggers at a summit that provided the occasion to experience former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speak passionately about this work. Noticeably, Duncan laced his speech with “kids” and “children” and “students”…oh yeah, that’s who this is for. With all the adult politics, you can easily forget. It was sorely needed inspiration for embattled education advocates in need of a refill.

The former secretary’s speech reminded me that nasty tete-a-tetes with school board members do nothing for children. I was reminded that on the ground, where real families are making decisions, is where the magic happens. It was a reminder not to engage with the intellectually dishonest, and instead spend that energy on saving children and building up families and communities.

Because of the countless experiences during my 30-day safari, I’m working my way out of The Sunken Place and regaining my footing. I will continue to insist all parents be afforded the opportunity to make choices from a menu of great options. And if that choice is a zoned school, well, hallelujah! But when zoned is not the choice, I will not accept the traditional patriarchal response where parents are admonished, or even punished. (See this Nashville Scene article.)

I ask that you please stop the disparaging remarks toward our families for our choice.
Nashville Charter School Parent Camiqueka Fuller to School Board

This year’s Independence Day takes on a new meaning—a unique kind of freedom from the political shackles we all find ourselves. From this point forward, I won’t be accepting anyone’s leftovers, BS, half-truths, and untruths.

And I’m calling on you to roll with me.

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“We Believe Black People Must Seek That Education By Any Means Necessary.”

During the most recent Tennessee legislative session, the subject of vouchers was indeed the star of the show. While the existence and proliferation of charter schools is a hot topic around here, the discourse on using public dollars for private schools (vouchers) is transitioning from slow burn to a full-blown fire. Even though several bills were introduced during the 2017 session, only one passed, but there’s more to come in 2018. Here’s my take on the 2017 session.

What’s Up With Vouchers?

The argument for and against vouchers is very similar to that of charters. Supporters believe vouchers provide additional choices to families, particularly to the traditionally underserved. Meanwhile, the opposition believes the motivation behind vouchers is an agent of privatization and, therefore, will administer the final blow to public education. Sound familiar?

In this The 74 article, three great minds leading the national education debate joined forces to state the case for vouchers for Black children. Whether you love ’em or loathe ’em, this case for vouchers cannot be easily dismissed. You be the judge.

Check out Howard Fuller, Marquette University professor, Derrell Bradford of EVP of 50CAN, and Chris Stewart, CEO of Wayfinder Foundation:

Critics of school choice programs find the politics of empowering Black families with the wider range of options available to wealthier families difficult, but we don’t. Some may find it radical to believe that we should use every school available to ensure our children are educated. We don’t. Some may believe that the quest for “choice” and the historic role of private schools in education is a moral and historical inconvenience. Indeed, the opposite is true: It’s a necessity. Some believe vouchers and other forms of parent choice are a threat to democracy. The real threat to democracy is an uneducated populace. We believe Black people must seek that education by any means necessary.

Need Some Edu-Inspiration? Look No Further Than Chattanooga

If they can’t come to us, we will go to them!

This is the fuel behind The Passage, a mobile bus service started by two teachers in Chattanooga, TN. I’m not familiar with the transportation system in Chattanooga, but Nashville’s transit very often poses as a barrier for lower-income families to access greatly needed community resources.

In some of Nashville’s under-resourced areas, residents may benefit from mobile libraries and even healthcare services, but nothing with a focus on parent outreach. The Chattanooga teachers-turned-bus operators offer instruction to students, books/supplies, and allow meeting time with parents. I can’t think of a more revolutionary, compassionate, and generous way to engage parents.

“A lot of our parents don’t have cars, or the shifts they work don’t work with the schedule of time teachers are available at school, so this service allows convenience for them,” Ryan explains.

While it’s not realistic to expect educators to purchase a bus to engage parents, we must acknowledge this innovative effort to think about engaging parents. These teachers get it! They understand the importance of partnering with parents in this education thing. Because as they say, alone we can go fast, but together we will go far.

Get more information about The Passage on their Facebook page.


And more on Chattanooga…

The Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy recently received an award from the National Principal’s Leadership Institute for its turnaround in student performance. A former low-performing school, CGLA until new leadership righted the ship and now CGLA is one of only four schools in the nation to get this recognition.

“We were looking at closure, but then the incredible, magnificent and determined Dr. Elaine Swafford arrived on our campus and she turned this place upside down, inside out,” Wells said. “She turned it around so that now we are not only surviving, but we are thriving.”

Yep, leadership matters! Read more on CGLA here.