Parent Involvement

Nashville's Superintendent Should Just Ignore Diane Ravitch's Fire and Brimstone

“Autocratic, power-hungry, tone-deaf bureaucrat.” These are the venom-laced words written by Diane Ravitch, reverend of edu-righteousness, in a recent blog post about Nashville’s director of schools. Ravitch, a “born-again” anti-reformer, has decided to use her lofty pulpit to raise up the Nashville naysayers on the 100-day-old contract for director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph. Taking her cues from a local public school parent, Ravitch titled the fire and brimstone post using words like “neuter” and “havoc” to describe the mild-mannered, parent-engaging, professionally-developing leader. Further, [pullquote position="left"]she makes fiery presumptions of “wasteful spending” and “ill-advised hires.” But, wait…that’s not all! By the hem of her entitlement, Ravitch calls for our school board to amend or terminate the good doctor’s contract. I’m sorry, what?

Diane, You're WRONG

First, I recall there being a unanimous vote on the Dr. Joseph’s contract—even after his request to amend to reflect his expectations of school board behavior. Interestingly, eight of those nine contract-voting board members are still serving. What has changed since May? Second, wasteful spending has traditionally been judged by outcomes. So, give it a minute, please. Third, “ill-advised hires” is pretty much a load of crap. I’m not going to pretend to ignore what she really means here. Dr. Joseph recently hired Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) chief of staff Jana Carlisle, who, upon recognizing Nashville’s issues with charters, “ removed all charter references from her public profile.” Fourth, good leaders travel with familiar talent. Our former schools chief, Dr. Garcia, certainly brought with him Californians to Nashville. Dr. Register hired from his former district in Chattanooga. What makes Dr. Joseph’s hires any different? Lastly, why in fresh hell are we having this conversation so early in the director’s tenure? The blasting of a performance too premature to assess raises all kinds of red flags. One can’t help but create conspiracy theories, as MNPS parent Kelley Dement commented: “I knew the Shady Bunch would try something when he wouldn’t dance to their music. Hang in there, Dr. Joseph.”

Singing His Praises

One thing I’ve observed is that parents love Dr. Joseph. Former MNPS teacher Pam Rowe noted that he has reached out to parents more than any other director in the last 20 years. Case in point, tomorrow the director is starting a second series of meetings on various topics for the sole purpose of obtaining parent input. Another thing, a portion of that “wasteful spending” is providing professional development to staff district-wide, not just the teachers. As someone who spent a decade working for the district, this screams all employees matter. I gotta tell ya, that has not always been the case. Let’s be clear, this is not to say the man can do no wrong. But I refuse to allow a few disgruntled choir members to malign the new director because their long-held solos were reassigned.
An original version of this post appeared on the Volume and Light blog as Ignore the Righteous Haters, Dr. Joseph, Because I've Got Your Back.
Vesia Wilson-Hawkins is a former Metro Nashville Public Schools student, parent and staffer. She is a staunch advocate for better public school options, particularly for the Black community in her hometown. She doesn’t care if that school is run through a ...

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