The MNPS School Board: The House Is Burning but “This Is Fine”

I messed up at work this week.

It wasn’t a huge mistake. On a scale of 1-10, it was probably a 1.5. But nonetheless, a simple oversight on my part resulted in a mistake.

When my boss found out about it, he came to my office, not to scold me, but to offer me a suggestion on how to do things better so that mistake wouldn’t happen again. In his wisdom he offered a practical solution on how I could improve on something.

When it comes to life, learning from our mistakes is a part of growth and maturity. However, if we’re afraid to admit we make mistakes or afraid to admit we need improvement, we’ll fail to grow.

With this idea in mind, I found myself floored this week when I read the evaluations of MNPS Director Shawn Joseph that were completed and compiled by the MNPS Board Members. For anyone who works in MNPS or has been connected with the school system, it should be no surprise that Dr. Joseph has made his fair share of mistakes and has had many shortcomings. I won’t rehash it all here, but if you’re interested in reading my assessment, you can find it on my Facebook page.

MNPS is in the worst shape it’s been in in many years. Teachers aren’t getting their promised raises. Insurance premiums are rising. Projections from the MNPS Central Office have been way off. The district can’t get the funding it needs for next year. The district has to keep asking the Metro Council for additional money this year. Teacher retention and morale are sinking like the Titanic. Things are not good.

And yet if you read the evaluations of Dr. Joseph, you’ll find that everything seems just fine and dandy. The MNPS School Board had to rate Joseph on over 100 categories with their choices being Unsatisfactory, Needs Improvement, Meets Expectations, Exceeds Expectations, and Exceptional.

I was quite confident Joseph would score on the low end of things, but wow, was I wrong! If my research and eyes are correct, 3 of the 9 board members (Anna Shepherd, Tyese Hunter, and Dr. Jo Ann Brannon) did not give Dr. Joseph a single score lower than “Meets Expectations” out of the 100+ categories. A fourth board member, Christiane Buggs, only marked “Needs Improvement” on one item and everything else was “Meets Expectations” or above.

What world are we living in? Anyone connected with MNPS knows that Shawn Joseph has A LOT to improve on, yet almost half of our board members don’t believe that? Are they lying to themselves or just turning a blind eye to what’s going on? If you asked teachers in the district to evaluate Joseph, you’d see a much different result. You’d likely hear about him using a personal chauffeur despite MNPS hurting for funding. You’d hear about him refusing to answer important questions from board members. You’d hear about him exceeding spending levels for unauthorized spending. You’d hear about him hiring his personal friends and paying them $20,000 ABOVE the pay scale.  You’d hear how he’s ignoring the crisis of lead in the water in our schools. So for a solid faction of our board members to say everything “meets expectations” or is even better is a slap in the face to teachers, paraprofessionals, parents, and students.

How will things ever improve if we won’t even admit there’s a problem? The MNPS ship has hit the iceberg, and yet those in charge keep saying, “This is fine.”

Not only does it seem like they’re turning a blind eye, but at the last school board meeting, Christiane Buggs seemed to lecture those school board members who were actually doing their jobs and asking the hard questions and providing truthful evaluations. Her implications seemed to slam those who actually see the problems and want to do something about it. The hypocrisy is astounding. Buggs was the same person who got on Twitter last year and referred to Donald Trump as Satan, Hitler, Stalin, a Nazi, and a Fascist. Whether or not you support Donald Trump is beside the point. Buggs seems to have the ability to point out failed leadership at the highest level, but can’t do it when it’s one of the responsibilities of her job.

There are a million more things I could say, but frankly, I’m not sure it’s worth my time or frustration. If you want to read more and get into the specifics, I’d highly recommend you read TC Weber’s blog “Dad Gone Wild.” He does a tremendous job of breaking down all of this. By the way, TC is running for school board in District 2. We DESPERATELY need him on the school board. If you live in District 2 or know people who do, get his name out there and give him a vote.

What this all comes down to is failed leadership, and it starts at the very top with Dr. Joseph. Unfortunately, several of our board members have become enablers to the process, which means there is no accountability. No accountability leads to leadership problems, ethical problems, moral problems, and more. And who do those problems affect the most? Our teachers and students.

Our school board needs to step up and face reality. They are helping absolutely no one by ignoring the truth and overlooking the facts. Shawn Joseph works for the MNPS School Board. The MNPS School Board does not work for Shawn Joseph.

Until they realize that and have the best interests of our teachers and students in mind, the house will continue to burn, and they’ll continue to tell us, “This is fine.”

The Most Awkward Song I Ever Played

When I was in high school, our youth group took a missions trip to Georgia and stayed at a church/funeral home. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s a bit awkward when someone tells you to grab the broom “next to the embalming fluid” or to “grab the hotdog buns on top of the gurney.”

We were scheduled to do a youth rally the same night a funeral visitation was taking place. As our “rally” went on in one room, people were paying their respects in another.

After the rally was over and the room cleared out, those of us in the band decided to play some non-church music. As the drums were smashing and I was thumping a familiar bass line, someone ran into the room and shouted, “You have to stop! You can’t play that song! They can hear it in the next room!”

Why the commotion? We were playing “Another One Bites the Dust.”

Mr. Rogers and Me: Why We Need Our “Neighbor”

It’s you I like,
It’s not the things you wear,
It’s not the way you do your hair
But it’s you I like
The way you are right now,
The way down deep inside you
Not the things that hide you,
Not your toys
They’re just beside you.

Summer months as a young child were usually spent indoors. Although we’d take the occasional trip to the grocery store, pool, or library, the blistering St. Louis heat and humidity kept the outdoor fun to a minimum. However, every weekday morning I spent 30 minutes with my neighbor, learning about life, having fun, and singing new songs.

This neighbor didn’t live next door or even down the street. Rather, Mr. Rogers appeared on my TV screen each morning to tell me I was special, unique, and loved. I never met Mr. Rogers in person, and yet I was convinced (and still am convinced today) that he was my friend.

This week I finally had the chance to see Morgan Neville’s documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor? From the first note that led into the movie, I found myself holding back tears as nostalgia and memories flooded my mind. This didn’t feel like a documentary about a Hollywood celebrity. This felt like a deeper look into a man who was my friend and neighbor.

As I watched the movie and sang along with songs, like the theme to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and “It’s Such a Good Feeling” (snap, snap), I had a warm smile that was also blanketed by sadness. As I thought about this man on PBS who taught me about kindness, love, death, racial unity, and more, I realized that my soon-to-be-born son won’t get to experience Mr. Rogers in his lifetime. But even sadder than that, I thought about the thousands of kids around the country who won’t ever seen Mr. Rogers’ principles lived out in front of them. During the 31 seasons of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, many kids heard lessons from Mr. Rogers that they weren’t hearing anywhere else. Many kids didn’t have parents who told them they loved them, that they were special, and that they were safe. They didn’t have positive role models in their lives who were teaching them kindness and encouraging them to do great things. Yet they had Mr. Rogers, who wanted every kid to know that they were special and loved because they had been made unique by their Creator.

It’s a safe bet that Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood couldn’t exist in 2018. Not only would the show not get ratings, but it’s unlikely it would ever make it on the air. In a day when cartoons are getting crazier and attention spans are getting shorter, it’s hard to believe a simple, quiet show could have much success. In our corrupt world, it’s hard to believe enough trust could exist to let a man speak into children’s lives for 30 minutes every day. And yet these things tell me we need Mr. Rogers more than ever. We need that calming presence. We need that guiding light. We need that person instilling principles of virtue into our culture. We need that person we can trust, and a person who won’t take advantage of that trust. We need Mr. Rogers.

Sadly, we no longer have Mr. Rogers. But, neighbors, what we do have is his legacy. My son might never see an episode of Misters Rogers’ Neighborhood, but I can take what I learned from the show and use it as a teaching opportunity for when his fish dies or when he sees someone with a physical disability. I can follow Mr. Rogers’ example and express the importance of racial unity. When bad things happen, I can tell him that he’s safe and I will protect him. When he gets called ugly names or finds himself in a heated disagreement, I can remind him of the importance of civility, kindness, and love. And when he doubts his worth, I can remind him that he is loved, special, and fearfully and wonderfully made.

Mr. Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but there’s no doubt he found his true calling and his true ministry through his PBS show. He taught us how to live, he taught us how to love, and he taught us how to make the world a better place. When I think about Mr. Rogers, I often think about Jesus’ words in Mark 12:31: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

For over 30 years, Mr. Rogers asked us every day, “Won’t you be my neighbor?” The answer to that has always been yes, but thank you Mr. Rogers for always being ours.

But it’s you I like
Every part of you.
Your skin, your eyes, your feelings
Whether old or new.
I hope that you’ll remember
Even when you’re feeling blue
That it’s you I like,
It’s you yourself
It’s you.
It’s you I like.

Photo credit: YouTube.com

6 Reasons Why I Talk About Depression

In early 2016 my doctor diagnosed me with depression. It was the least surprising thing my doctor could have told me because I was quite aware I had been dealing with it for some time. From the age of 16 on, I had encountered bouts here and there, but this was the first time I sought medical help.

Since that February day, I’ve found it very easy to be open with that diagnosis. For some reason, telling people about my struggles with depression rolls off the tongue just as easily as telling them about my struggles with Mike Matheny’s managing. It just feels a bit natural. But after talking to people and reading about the “black dog,” I’ve discovered it’s not that common to discuss. Regardless, there is something in me that tells me I need to be discussing the issue of depression with others. And here are 6 reasons I talk about depression.

1. It’s a big deal that’s not a big deal. 

I would never minimize the severity of depression. It’s an awful thing that attacks and destroys so many lives. It’s a big deal. Talking about it, however, is not. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone I had a migraine. I wouldn’t try to conceal a cast that shows I have a broken arm. For me, talking about the issue isn’t that big of a deal. It’s a part of life, and it’s a part of the road I’m walking down. There are plenty of other issues in my life that I’m not comfortable discussing with strangers, but this is one I’ve been able to talk about freely, and if talking about it openly can help someone else, I’ll gladly do it!

2. There is strength in numbers.

The more I talk about my battle with depression, the more people that open up to me about their battles with depression. And the more I realize I’m not alone, the more inclined I am to lean in, be authentic and transparent with others, and realize what I’m dealing with is completely normal. There is great strength in knowing we are not alone in our struggles. Knowing that someone else knows what we’re going through does us a lot of good. And I can say this with complete sincerity: every single person who has opened up to me about their battle with depression has been an encouragement to me in some way.

3a. Too many men are suffering in silence.

As men, we don’t like to talk about our feelings or emotions. We also have this idea that depression means we’re weak and it’s an indictment of our masculinity. Therefore, we stay quiet and suffer in silence. It doesn’t need to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way. Men, we need to talk about it. We need to discuss it. We need to offer each other hope and encouragement. We definitely don’t need to perpetuate the myth that depression is a sign of male weakness. Nothing could show strength like speaking up, being honest with ourselves and others, and admitting our struggles. We need to talk about it.

3b. Too many leaders (and especially ministry leaders) are suffering in silence.

Because of the corporate, survival-of-the-fittest attitude that exists today, people in high positions are afraid to speak up out of fear of losing their influence and position. Corporate leaders are afraid that an admission of mental illness will cause them to get replaced by someone who is more “stable.” Pastors are afraid that speaking up will cause their board to see them as weak or their congregation to see them as “lacking in faith.” And while I wish I could say that none of these things will happen, the truth is that they do happen sometimes. Our dog-eat-dog world can be cruel. Our ignorant world can be cruel. But there’s no need to suffer in silence. There are people out there who are going through the very same thing who want to help. Depression isn’t synonymous with ineptitude or lack of faith. Depression is no respecter of persons or professions. I’ve spoken up because I don’t want leaders to feel like they have to suffer in silence.

4. I’m not exactly qualified to talk about fitness so I might as well go with something I know!

5. I want to see us end the stigma.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 6.7% of US adults have been diagnosed with depression. That number jumps to over 10% when you examine 18-25 year olds. And that’s just those who have been diagnosed. Think about all of the people who are suffering who have yet to seek help because they’re afraid to seek help. They’re afraid to be labeled. They’re afraid to be seen as inferior. They’re afraid people will think there’s something wrong with them. I want to see this stigma disappear in my lifetime. Like I mentioned earlier, I would love for us to get to the point where we view depression as no different than a headache or broken arm.

6. People need to know help is available. 

It took me almost 14 years to get help. Thankfully, I wasn’t suffering 14 years straight, and thankfully my depression has been something that comes and goes and has been behind me for a couple years, but if hindsight is 20/20, I wish I had gotten help long before I did. Meeting with a doctor and getting on medication did wonders for me. Having trusted friends to talk to who have dealt with or are dealing with the same thing kept me feeling refreshed and normal. And I want all my friends to know that help is available and it’s a beautiful thing. Whether that looks like medication, counseling, etc., help is out there.

As long as depression still exists, I’ll keep talking about it. And I hope those who are dealing with it will find the strength to discuss it as well. You’re not alone. You’re not broken. You’re just like me and I’m just like you. Let’s talk about it.

Photo credit: Choc.org.

My Dentist Locked Me Out

Yesterday I had a 2:00 PM dentist appointment. Being the time conscious person I am, I arrived around 1:45 to make sure I was on time. When I got there, the parking lot was completely empty and there was a sign on the door that said, “Sorry, we’re closed!”

I was confused a little bit, as I had never seen a “closed” sign on the door, but since I was early I decided to wait. Around 1:55 PM another patient pulled into the parking lot. At 1:58, a third patient arrived. After 2:00 PM came and went, I got out of my car and went to the door to see if the sign had been placed in error. It hadn’t. The door was locked and it was clear no one was inside.

Confused, Continue reading “My Dentist Locked Me Out”

Double Dare’s Original Prizes

Do you remember the original prizes on “Double Dare”?

Double Dare is back on the air and I couldn’t be happier! Thankfully, Nickelodeon kept the original structure intact, and even brought back Marc Summers. Since the original show premiered over 30 years, there’s no doubt the prizes have changed a bit. Do you remember any of the original prizes? If you want to feel nostalgic and get a good laugh, take a look at this video to see what kids of the 80s were battling for:

A Thank You and Farewell to Third Day

The lights went down and the noise of the crowd came to a hush. The sound of the acoustic guitar did not prepare me for what would happened next…

The fall of 1997 found me an awkward middle school kid on the verge of turning 13. In what will sound foreign to today’s teenagers, these were the days before YouTube and digital music. If you wanted to hear music, your options were limited to the radio or putting down the money to buy a CD or cassette. If you wanted to hear Christian music, your options were even more limited. Like me, many people lived in towns with only one Christian radio station, and it was usually filled with static and only played 90s music that appealed to soccer moms. If you got really lucky, you might find a Christian rock album at Walmart, but it was more likely you’d have to travel to a Christian bookstore and pay $17.99 for an album you knew almost nothing about.

There was one perk to this, though. Continue reading “A Thank You and Farewell to Third Day”