Honeymoon is over for Metro schools’ Joseph
We are familiar with the first stage of a relationship, whether personal or professional, the “Honeymoon Period” is the time when we are too dazzled to care, or even notice, that we are ignoring an immutable fact of life, that nobody, and no relationship, is perfect.
Metro Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph, who started work on July 1, might be experiencing one of the shortest honeymoons I’ve seen, raising questions about Nashville’s commitment to building a school system that meets the needs of every child who comes through its doors seeking to learn and grow.
Who’s in charge?
Business consultant Jeremy Marchant calls stage two the “Power Struggle Stage,” which he describes like this:
“Pretty soon there is trouble in paradise,” he writes on his Emotional Intelligence at Work website.
“What is happening,” he writes, “is that each person in the relationship is now fighting to ensure their needs are met from the relationship—fighting to be in control of it.”
Director in charge
In 2015, the Metro school board struggled with a process to find a replacement for director Jesse Register, and to most observers, the board epitomized dysfunction.
After Mayor Megan Barry was elected, the board began a more deliberate and inclusive process to choose a new chief. There was broad agreement on the requirements, including the willingness to pay what it took to bring the right kind of leader here.
It took just 30 minutes for the Metro school board to unanimously choose Joseph, a traditional schools advocate, from six finalists, and it quickly approved his contract.
Joseph understood that the school board regularly went around Register to engage his management team on a range of issues and problems, and the new director did not want that to continue. Paragraph six in Joseph’s contract states:
“The Board, individually and collectively, shall promptly refer to the Director, orally or in writing, for his study and recommendation any and all criticisms, complaints, suggestions, communications or other comments regarding the Director’s performance of his duties of the operation of MNPS. Individual board members agree that they will not give direction to the Director or any employee of MNPS regarding the management of the District or the solution of specific problems ....”
In addition to his annual pay ($285,000) and the provision of a full-size automobile, his contract also stipulates that he “shall select all personnel…”
Joseph was determined that he would be a strong and independent superintendent, and his contract reflected that intent.
The board raised no objections to the terms, and publicly praised the deal in May.
Once signed, Joseph went to work almost immediately, six weeks before his July 1 start date. He met with teachers and parents; got involved in a new principal selection process; and changed the community conversation between leadership and the community. In his first official week on the job, he tapped four dozen school and community leaders to help steer change.
Five months later, the picture is not so cheery, with some school board members chaffing at the deal they struck and criticism bubbling from parents and others.
Diane Ravitch, the New York University professor of education and former assistant Honeymoon is over for Metro schools’ Joseph:
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