Friday, August 17, 2007

Impressed with Ben Wright

I had the privilege to listen to Ben Wright detail some of his vision for the MNPS schools last night, and I have to say that I was impressed. He voiced a much more student-achievement focused philosophy than the previous Chief Academic Officer did. Dr. Wright's predecessor worked aggressively to articulate standards and focus on the curriculum, but that focus had become myopic by the time she left.

Dr. Wright's focus is more educationally sound, and his strategies (more later) for achieving his goals seem good. Of course, successful implementation will be determined by a host of variables that philosophy and goals cannot fully control, but at least he seems to be on the right track (no pun intended).

Mine is just an initial observation, and much remains to be seen about implementation and buy-in from the stakeholders in the system, but I was invigorated that a cooperative approach linking the Mayor, City Council, and school board with this new focus could, over time, really go a long way in changing the perceptions and realities in our schools. Now is the time for political leaders to call for that cooperative approach.

Missing in action on this are any serious journalistic efforts by print or television news in town to detail the educational philosophy Dr. Wright brings and any serious investigation or comment by either mayoral candidate. I am ready to be corrected if this statement is in error, but I do know that no press was present at the Parent's Advisory Council meeting last night where I was able to hear Dr. Wright detail his goals. That's unfortunate because he was talking about what we need to DO about the NCLB realities. We should have a thriving discussion and debate about action steps to follow moving forward in place of continual hand-wringing about the shape we're in.

By the way, in case you missed it, please help me get attention from the mayoral candidates for my questions about their intentions in the area of education funding.


Lauren said...

I am glad you were impressed by Ben Wright because I'm guessing he will be our next Director of Schools. And I'm guessing it could be sooner than many people think. The urban citizens never have had any real support for Garcia and now the middle class is against him over SSA. The next evaluation will be very interesting and should be coming next month. I'm guessing Ben Wright is the heir apparent.

Anonymous said...

Alan -- Quick correct -- Dr. Wright is not the Chief Academic/Instructional Officer like Sandy Johnson was. Sandy Tinnon has that role but with far less power. It is my understanding he is the Chief Administrative Officer.

I, too, was impressed with what he said. However, I have heard mixed things about his experiences in Seattle and Philadelphia. I want to learn more. Time will tell -- Thanks!

RAH_RAH said...

He has a website too!

df said...

The pith in the wind blog has a scathing review of Ben Wright out today (9/19/07). Alan, can you respond to the comments there, which I feel are pretty unfair and unfounded?

Anonymous said...

I have heard rumors about Wright being the next Director, but he doesn't have a doctorate. Would a major school district actually hire someone without the appropriate training and credentials? This isn't to put down what he has accomplished; that is a track record that needs to be carefully and dispassionately evaluated; what would be worrisome is if that didn't happen, and instead, only the school district's spin machine worked the public. With regard to his website, I also think that grammar is overrated these days, but I would think that at least an EdD, although really a PhD would be the minimum opening bid.

Alan Coverstone said...

I certainly failed to read much behind the website when RAH_RAH posted it after my initial brief impressions were formed. I looked at some of the general narrative pages, and they looked fine. Educational Transformationalist sounded like words I could understand, but they are words that can only be judged in practice, so I disregarded them for the time being.
The Tennessean piece is clearly fluff, and the Pith in the Wind piece is a hatchet job. Where is the truth? Hopefully somewhere in the middle. (Sentence fragment used intentionally; I hope doing so doesn’t disqualify me as an educator). I have been accused of being irresponsible for stuff that seems dated found on old (I thought dead) links to old versions of my school website. That criticism is fair, even though it is not timely or accurate. In Ben Wright's case, though, it does seem fair to ask the context of these pieces, clearly (I think) still linked to him.
I don't think either perspective is unfair, but it is safe to say that neither perspective asks the questions we need answered. Specifically, what is the connection between Mr. Wright's plans for MNPS and the material on this website? Did the MNPS read this material when screening him for hire? What is his response to the charge that his website contains comma errors and run-on sentences? Shouldn't that matter to a teacher? Is there another perspective that is somewhat better researched and useful than the fluff extreme or the hatchet extreme?

Alan Coverstone said...

Don't get me wrong...This is not a good turn of events. It does look bad for the school system, and this website should have been addressed prior to Mr. Wright’s arriving on the job.
I hope that no one actually read behind the front page of the web site in the same way I did not, but that is pretty shameful too. I am disappointed in myself for not getting/taking the time to read everything on the site. I meant to get back to it, but hiring the Academic leader is not my job. At the very least, this situation is a PR headache that will complicate the efforts to improve schools in Nashville.
How about a statement on this issue from Mr. Wright that can put it into some kind of context and get people refocused on the mission of the schools and his efforts at promoting that mission?

Anonymous said...

An intentional sentence fragment needs no apology, and indeed yours was just fine with even the clippy rhythm such style demands (even if it did, technically, misuse "hopefully" but that's a ship long ago sailed :-) ).
But the level of grammatical and stylistic error on BW's page is far beyond fragments and run-ons and, alas, fairly consistent with the logical construction of the arguments, the shoddy representation of history, and general clarity of the presentation. That doesn't mean he might not be good at his job--depending on what that job is. What it does mean is that hard questions need to be asked with transparency, and since they weren't asked before he was hired to a post that could easily become the most powerful in the school district, one has to worry about when they will be asked. But it is crucial that his website not be vieed as something to clean up, but rather as an expression of his professional values.

Anonymous said...

The Tennessean piece is clearly fluff, and the Pith in the Wind piece is a hatchet job.

I suspect the the Tennessee article is straight out of the MNPS PR spin machine, and that the Pith in the Wind Piece is not only not a hatchet job, but much more journalistically accurate and close to the truth.

How about a statement on this issue from Mr. Wright that can put it into some kind of context and get people refocused on the mission of the schools and his efforts at promoting that mission?

Are you suggesting that there be some new spin created for Mr. Wright? His website, ignoring the questionable writing skills, states his personal beliefs regarding education which should be rather alarming to anyone who actually reads them. And his claimed successes should be throughly investigated as well.

Anonymous said...

The mere fact that someone could be hired to LEAD a school system when they cannot, in fact, articulately express their views on education should be alarming. We should require our leaders to model what we expect from our students. I know for a fact that middle school students are required to write more coherently than the author of Mr. Wright's website (presumbaly Wright himself).

Equally concerning should be the fact that Mr. Wright's pet issue, Personal Learning Plans, do more to take away from quality instruction. Those interested should take time to researc what exactly these plans are and how they are implemented. Metro's test scores will not rise because of this initiative; I'll be surprised if they don't fall!

Someone needs to be asking where Metro is headed as a district. The propaganda they are releasing as progressive, well proven, etc. is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. This district is in serious trouble, and it is disturbing to see so many either unquestionably buy into everything they promote or stand by and say nothing.

If Nashville truly cares about public education, now's the time to get involved. Start asking tough questions and demand answers that reflect a CLUE about what quality education is.

MS said...

I wrote a few months back how scared I was for my son's public school education after visiting his web page. Am I ever happy that lauren's apocalyptic prediction about Mr. Wright being the next Director didn't com true.

Anonymous said...

You're lucky you got rid of Ben Wright. He was actually a grifter and so is his wife.