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Metro schools director gets low marks on board evaluations

Posted: 12:25 PM, Mar 04, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-05 12:04:39-05
35 MNPS Workers Could See Jobs Cut

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Embattled Metro Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph received low marks across multiple categories -- including student achievement, school climate and employee morale -- during a recent mid-year evaluation.

None of the Metro School Board members said Joseph was meeting expectations on "ensuring that all students are achieving academic growth in reading and math" or ensuring that MNPS is closing achievement gaps among children of color.

Six of nine board members said Joseph was failing to meet expectations on showing "overall positive gains in school climate and culture," failing to meet expectations on "ensuring that employee morale and satisfaction are increasing," failing to meet expectations on "ensuring compliance with all legal and regulatory requirements," and failing to meet expectations on "effective public relations."

Five out of nine marked him down on "ensuring that MNPS is recruiting and retaining effective teachers."

Click here to read the evaluations

The evaluations, first obtained by NewsChannel 5 Investigates, also reflect the deep divisions within the school board.

"The continued dysfunction of our board is alarming to me and will make it impossible to garner confidence from our Metro Council or state leaders in order to get funding we need to be successful," wrote Gini Pupo-Walker, who is widely seen a crucial swing vote on Joseph's future.

"Dr. Joseph bears some responsibility for the combative nature of the board and director relations, and our inability to get on the same page is taking a serious toll on staff, students and the community. This climate is not sustainable."

Submission of the evaluations comes as the board prepares to take up debate on March 26 about whether to extend Joseph's contract a year early. Joseph has one more year left on his four-year contract, which began July 1, 2016.

Three outspoken Joseph critics - Fran Bush, Amy Frogge and Jill Speering - were nearly unanimous in giving Joseph the lowest possible score of "unsatisfactory" in all categories utilized in the evaluations. Frogge bumped up Joseph's score to a "needs improvement" in one category.

All three have called for him to be fired.

"MNPS is in serious trouble, and it is a crisis under the leadership of Shawn Joseph," wrote Bush, who is in her first term. "Our kids are academically suffering, our teachers are leaving and the climate is terrible!"

Frogge called Joseph "extremely manipulative, dishonest and lacking in professionalism."

"When problems have arisen, the director has chosen to hide information, to manipulate, to race bait, to stir division in order to divert attention from incompetence, and to make bizarre public accusations against board members," she wrote.

"Not only will he not address problems, he will not even acknowledge mistakes."

On the other end of the spectrum, Joseph loyalist Will Pinkston marked the director of schools as "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations" in a majority of categories.

"As a board member, I feel guilty about the fact that we did not set him up to succeed sooner," Pinkston wrote. "The chronically underfunded nature of MNPS is shameful. No superintendent would be able to move these stubborn academic indicators without significant new resources in the classroom."

Pinkston said that Joseph's most significant challenge during the first half of the year "unquestionably was dealing with patently false attacks by one-third of the school board."

Board chair Sharon Gentry echoed that criticism.

"We have become intentional [in] looking for and highlighting evidence that we believe will malign the director's reputation and undermine his ability to successfully lead his team," Gentry wrote.

While Joseph has pointed to academic gains in select areas, his critics argued that the overall picture is not good.

"According to the State Report Card, our chronic absenteeism rate has increased, our dropout rate has increased, and our graduation rate has decreased," Frogge wrote.

Pupo-Walker noted that the district's overall growth score on the most recent TNReady testing was the lowest level - a 1 out of 5 - as a district. Metro Schools also received a 1 in Social Studies, Science and Math and a Level 2 in growth in English, she added.

"While acknowledging that there were challenges with the online administration of TNReady in the high schools, the assessment was strictly pencil and paper in grades 3-8, eliminating the possibility that testing issues were a factor in our performance," she wrote.

A majority of the board gave Joseph credit for "ensuring that a higher percentage of third graders are reading at grade level."

"However, when we reach grade 5, we lose that academic growth," new board member Rachael Anne Elrod wrote.

Five out of nine board members gave the director credit for "ensuring that student suspensions and expulsions are decreasing."

But his critics suggested that the reductions in discipline actions have left schools less safe.

"If the number of incidents is increasing, while the number of suspensions and expulsions is decreasing, there is an impact on the classroom that appears to be going unaddressed," Speering wrote.

"Thereby teachers and students suffer. The primary focus of the district must always be keeping ALL students safe."

The evaluations were submitted before the release of a scathing report from a Nashville law firm that warned of a morale crisis that threatens the district's ability to attract and retain qualified employees.

Longtime Joseph supporter Anna Shepherd was muted in her evaluation.

But, after the release of the report, Shepherd took to Facebook to call the MNPS Human Resources Department "a hot mess" and suggested that the number two person should be fired.

"I am personally disappointed that Dr. Joseph would refuse to listen to the principals and leadership in this district," Shepherd wrote on Facebook.

"Principals should not have to beg to communicate with our director especially with the important concerns they have and the responsibilities they carry for our 85 thousand students."

NC5 Investigates: Metro Schools