Is the director of MNPS being railroaded?

William T. Robinson, Jr.

William T. Robinson, Jr.

Dr. Shawn Joseph, the director of Nashville Public Schools is in a contentious position where he is the topic of major conversation in the district. His leadership ability, character, and direction for the 82,000 students making up this district are in question. He is in the hot seat and he has a school board of directors that is visibly divided and offering a conflicted show within themselves. You have some board members that are loyal to the director, and a handful adamantly opposed to him. The latter are seeking to oust him or discontinue his contract that is scheduled till 2020.

Whether you are a supporter or critic, it is only fair to honestly examine the facts and the plausible reasons that exist for those so fervently demanding his dismissal. But let’s be mindful that when we hired Dr. Joseph, we gave him our support in doing whatever was necessary to improve and move our schools forward. A legitimate question we must ask ourselves is “Are we doing everything to support his efforts or acting to bring about his downfall? “

We should all be in agreement that it is a job where difficult decisions are made that won’t make everyone happy. That is the nature of the position. Dr. Joseph has the experience from working with other districts to implement good practices known to work to move our district forward at a quicker rate. These changes may appear unorthodox or uncomfortable to some, but that is why he was hired: we felt he had the expertise to lead us in a productive direction.

It seems that the game rules have changed. That makes some feel his race as an African American can be fueling the disenchantment he has with some off his starchiest critics. No one is claiming Dr. Joseph is perfect, but many would argue there is nothing in his discretionary practices (such as hiring a driver) that previous directors didn’t utilize. His every move seems to be scrutinized by his critics.

Yes, Dr. Joseph has cut the District’s budget by $15 million, but all students’ AP exams are now paid for and the teachers were approved for a three percent raise. He has made decisions affecting the punitive consequences for executive staff and employees within the guidelines provided by HR that previous directors have also made. He has been accused of hiring friends from other districts which some perceive as a problem (perhaps because many of them are African American). When were other directors attacked for bringing in staff from other districts and called to the table?

It is the talk around town among many African Americans that they feel a witch-hunt is being directed toward Dr. Joseph. If you’re looking for something to complain about you can find it. Many would argue that he is being held up and judged by a different standard than previous directors. Many are quick to state that the bulk of disenchantment with Dr. Joseph stems from the budget cuts he made eliminating many jobs and projects. (If the Metro Council had approved the school budget to provide money to improve programs and allocate resources in needed targeted places instead of demanding to cut the budget, this so-called “witch-hunt” would not possibly be occurring).

It is speculated that one of the project cut was a reading program, a pet program supported by Board Member Jill Speering, who in turn helped to generate animosity and lack of support for Dr. Joseph. It’s highly offensive and unprofessional for board members to utilize their time with the media or the public to put down a director. Dr. Joseph’s performance evaluation showed an unsatisfactory approval rating. Could this possibly be led by a handful of disgruntled board members who don’t agreed with his direction for the district?

Some critics voiced their disproval of Dr. Joseph for using a small clip of a rap song during a meeting. For some, this showed he was flexible in identifying and finding different modus operandi to relate and move some students forward (remember we preach diversity, and how one size doesn’t fit all). Another possible reason for the criticism surrounding Dr. Joseph is that he has put money into the poorest schools. Some argue that is taking from the wealthier schools, but only a handful of wealthy schools have seen a loss. Facts show (per pupil) MNPS students get more money than they have ever gotten before in the history of the district.

Dr. Shawn Joseph has been characterized as being arrogant, opinionated, and unapproachable. Funny how, in some circles, if he were White, those characteristics would be interpreted as redeeming qualities. But whether you like him or not, respect his intellect, experience, and position as the director of MNPS. Give him the same consideration you have given some previous directors you disagreed with in the past. Dr. Joseph has expressed he is willing to sit down and meet with those who are disgruntled, but he is not to be manipulated by those with esoteric self-serving agendas.

Many Nashvillians hope Dr. Joseph is mindful that there are many in the district supportive of his efforts to move this district forward. Respectfully, he shouldn’t be too disappointed at some of the elected Black misinformed officials or community leaders who may not seem supportive. Nashville has a plethora of Blacks with the plantation mentality. They are content to stay in their places.

Regardless of how you may feel about Dr. Shawn Joseph, if you are going to judge him, paint him with a fair, unbiased brush. His methods may be new and different from what you are used to, but it is far too early to say they are ineffective. Plus, give him the money and resources he needs to bring his plan for our district to fruition.

Ironically after writing this article, a school board member, Will Pinkston, is resigning, verbalizing that the school board is chronically ill in ways that will not be easily cured. He has accused his colleagues of racially motivated attacks on Dr. Shawn Joseph. As it stands now, Dr. Joseph is not seeking to have his contract renewed and school Board Member Anna Shepard is working to draft a motion to have Dr. Joseph’s contract terminated. I leave you with this question: Is Dr. Shawn Joseph the real problem or is he being railroaded?