Start Over! Slow Down! Review the Report!

In response to MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to redesign schools in East Nashville into an “All-Choice” zone with more charters and schools turned over to the struggling Achievement School District, a group of parents in East Nashville calling itself East Nashville United is now asking for a review of a consultant’s report on Metro Schools.

ENU has previously called on Register to start over with any plan for East Nashville schools and more recently has asked for more time in order to allow for broader community input before a plan goes into place.

Register’s announcement of changes in East Nashville comes amid a report detailing the increased costs charter schools impose on MNPS and reports out of Memphis that rather than turn more schools in that district’s Innovation Zone, the Director of Schools there is seeking to “double down” on what’s working: District management of schools with increased investment, support, and flexibility.

Here’s East Nashville United’s latest press release, calling on Register to revisit the report of the Tribal Consulting Group as a basis for any new plan for East Nashville schools:

An organized group of East Nashville residents is calling on Nashville schools to re-examine a consultant’s series of reports on some of the city’s struggling schools.

The request by East Nashville United—the parent-led coalition formed in September after the abrupt announcement of sweeping changes to East Nashville schools—asks Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Jesse Register to brief the school board and the public on how, or if, MNPS addressed the detailed findings laid out in the reports.

MNPS paid the Tribal Group, a British Consulting Group, $3.5 million to study nearly 40 schools, including Bailey, Jere Baxter and Gra Mar Middle Schools and Stratford and Maplewood High Schools. Although the reports provide a wealth of information on the challenges each school faces, MNPS has been noticeably silent on the Tribal Group’s evaluations. In fact, last year MNPS rejected media efforts to obtain a copy of one of the group’s reports assessing the central office.

http://www.nashvillescene.com/pitw/archives/2013/09/06/foia-friday-the-tribal-reports

John Haubenreich, the chair of East Nashville United (ENU), says that MNPS can’t dismiss the findings of its own paid consultant.

“We’ve heard so much talk of school closings, charter conversions and a rash All-Choice plan that would divide neighborhoods,” Haubenreich said. “What we’re asking for instead is a serious look at the needs of our schools and how we can provide them. The Tribal reports provide as good a starting place as any.”

Haubenreich says that Dr. Register must address the problems underscored by the group’s findings. For example, at last week’s community meeting at Jere Baxter Middle School, a teacher spoke of how the school, which hired a new principal this year, lacked stability. With the school in a constant state of transition, she said, it was difficult to develop plans to meet the needs of its students.

The Tribal report on Jere Baxter observed the same problem. In fact, the report, conducted in 2011, noted that a recent shift to a new education model “brought considerable uncertainty to the school.” The report also noted that it was challenging for the school to “develop continual improvement against a background of significant change.”

Haubenreich says East Nashville United welcomes an East Nashville plan, as long as it builds on genuine community input and critical information already available.

“What we have asked for from Day 1 is a methodical, community-driven blueprint for our schools,” Haubenreich says. “We think the Tribal reports offer useful information from our teachers and students, both about their schools and central administration. Why would we develop a plan that doesn’t take advantage of that?”

The Tribal reports provide distinct portraits of each school. They show the effectiveness of the leadership, the concerns of the teachers and, in general, the culture of the school. They also examine the quality of instruction, the use of data and the distinct behavioral issues each school faces. Most of all, the Tribal reports lay out detailed “areas of improvement” that could shape a strategy to close the performance gap of low-income children.  (You can read the reports here.)

In light of the renewed attention focused on the consultant’s reports, Jai Sanders, one of the founding members of East Nashville United, says that MNPS should brief the school board and the public about the findings of the Tribal Group.

“We’re actually stunned this hasn’t been done already. We have detailed reports about several East Nashville Schools and we don’t know how MNPS addressed these findings,” says Sanders, a parent at Inglewood Elementary.

“Sometimes we feel like the leadership at MNPS is juggling ideas around with no real strategy, moving on whatever it heard last,” he says. “Revisiting the Tribal reports is a good way for MNPS to regain credibility.”

Last week East Nashville United called on Dr. Register to push back his plan to reorganize schools in East Nashville. Register has said his plan will be finalized by January 1st. ENU wants MNPS to use remainder of the school year to develop a thorough, transparent plan that addresses the diverse needs of its unique schools.

 

NOTE: John Haubenreich, Chair of East Nashville United, is a contributor to TN Ed Report.

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport

 

Charter Zone Not Planned Years Ago

Andy Spears posted an article titled, East Nashville Charter Planned Years Ago? The blog post was based on and cited an op-ed by Dr. Kristen Buras, a Georgia State professor.

I am here to tell you that is not true, in my opinion.

For starters, I don’t know how much someone outside of Tennessee (Buras) can tell about what’s happening in our school system. People in Nashville are still trying to find out about this plan because it’s came about so quickly. For someone outside Nashville to know this has been planned for years, but not anyone in Nashville, is something else altogether. What really happened is that very soon after the priority list was released, Dr. Register held a meeting with a variety of high level staffers. This happened relatively shortly before a school board meeting. Dr. Register decided to tell the public as much as he knew about the plan. One thing was clear: It was not a clear plan.

Dr. Buras’ article made it seem like you can only have community meetings before you have a plan. To have a community meeting, one must have a plan in the first place. What will you present to the community if not a loose idea of a plan? After a fluid plan was announced, Dr. Register announced meeting with all the priority list schools, which he is currently in the midst of doing.

Another way you can tell this hasn’t been planned? Dr. Register stumbled out of the starting blocks. The announcement was messy, it wasn’t clear, and there were a lot of misconceptions. But that means this was a plan that was formed at a fast pace so that it could be quickly disseminated to the public.

Additionally, we are Nashville. We are not Chicago. We are not New Orleans. We are not New York. Comparing what is happening in other cities is like comparing apples to oranges. We are a very specific district with very specific needs. We have a school board that does not approve all charter schools, closes down charter schools, and has a good discussion while doing that.

Of course we should take what happened in other cities and make sure it doesn’t happened here, but that’s totally different argument. I may not agree with what all charter schools are doing in Nashville, but I am totally confident in our elected officials and our central office staff to make sure that we don’t get run over with charters.

Finally, this is what we should actually be discussing: We are failing students. You may not agree with that statement, but I wholeheartedly agree. I see it everyday when I teach in North Nashville. I think we are failing students at the elementary level. If we cannot teach kids how to read in elementary school, they will be behind for the rest of their life. I understand all the dynamics that a child comes with when they reach elementary school. Parents don’t care, no books in the household, SES, etc. But that shouldn’t stop a child from learning to read. There are research proven ways to teach kids to the read, and we are not doing that.

Something needs to change.

What change should that be?

I don’t know, but it looks like MNPS is trying to find out.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

East Nashville United: Give Us More Time

East Nashville United, a parent group formed in response to MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register’s plan to reorganize schools in East Nashville, has issued a call for Register to push back his proposed timeline.

Register has said his plan will be finalized by January 1st. The parent group wants to use the remainder of the school year to collect input and develop a plan.

From the press release:

“If we’re going to do this well, and do it right, we must push back the deadline to the end of the school year,” said John Haubenreich, the chair of ENU. “We don’t want to sprint, just to realize at the end that we sprinted to the wrong place. This gives the task force time to do its work, to marshal community resources, look into grant materials, and integrate plans with the budget which isn’t voted on until the end of the school year.”

Haubenreich points to the sheer size of MNPS as an argument in favor of an urgent, but methodical approach. Using MNPS’ own per-pupil expenditure number ($11,012), the Maplewood cluster represents a $44 million system, while the Stratford cluster represents at $55 million system. Combined, Register seeks to reorganize a $100 million entity.

“Dr. Register has proposed much too fast of a timeline, “ Haubenreich said. “No business in the world would ever attempt such a huge undertaking, with such a valuable set of assets, in such a short amount of time. Getting it done right cannot be sacrificed on the altar of getting it done fast.”

Jai Sanders, a parent at Inglewood Elementary School, says that MNPS needs to use the remainder of the school year to put together a thoughtful, effective plan for the clusters. One of four priority schools in East Nashville, Inglewood Elementary School initially looked like it was fated for a charter conversion or even a closure. But Register appeared to back away from both options in the face of widespread opposition from parents at last week’s meeting at Inglewood Elementary School. Instead, Register has discussed other options including making Inglewood a STEM or Padeia school.

“We applaud Dr. Register for recognizing the strong parental and community support Inglewood Elementary has earned from all of us,” said Sanders, one of the founding members of ENU and an active member of his school’s PTO. “We now need him to take the time to see what our school is doing well and what it needs to continue to improve. We can get there but not if MNPS tries to throw together a complex, untested plan in a matter of weeks.”

Less than one month after Register announced his East Nashville plan to the Metro School Board, he has largely abandoned the plan’s centerpiece — the ‘All-Choice’ mandate for the Stratford and Maplewood clusters.

Haubenreich applauds Register for reaffirming his support for zoned schools.

“We believe that an all-choice zone, with no zoned schools, is the wrong path for East Nashville,” Haubenreich said.  “Dr. Register has confirmed at community meetings that he has no intention of doing away with zoned schools, and we support that decision.”

Overall, ENU commends Dr. Register’s focus on the Stratford and Maplewood clusters. “The area’s diversity, population density and strong support for public schools of all shapes and sizes, creates an opportunity for successful reform,” said Ruth Stewart, the vice chair of the group and parent at Lockeland Design Center.

We do not need to choose between an unacceptable status quo and a plan that is the product of a hastily-assembled committee,” she added. “Rather, we demand that a community-driven task force have enough time to evaluate and ultimately recommend a range of approaches that reflect the needs of individual schools.”

“This doesn’t have to be a long process, but it shouldn’t be rushed either. You don’t improvepublic education on the fly.”

 

NOTE: John Haubenreich, identified in the press release as Chair of East Nashville United, is also a contributor to TN Ed Report.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Report: Charter Schools an Expensive Proposition for MNPS

A report by a third-party group commissioned by the MNPS School Board finds that the rapid growth of charter schools in Nashville is having a negative financial impact on the district.

The report, prepared by MGT of America, notes:

“… it is clear that charter schools impose a cost on MNPS – both directly and indirectly.  It is also clear … that the loss of operating funds caused by the transfer of revenue cannot likely be made up through a reduction in capital or facility costs.  Therefore, approving future charter schools does potentially meet the “bar” described in  Tennessee Code Annotated 49-13-108(b) which encourages local boards of education to consider fiscal impact in determining whether new charter schools may be “contrary to the best interest of the pupils, school district or community.”  From this analysis, new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact on MNPS:    

They will continue to cause the transfer of state and local per student funds without reducing operational costs. 

They will continue to increase direct and indirect costs. 

They will continue to negatively impact deferred maintenance at leased buildings. 

They may have an offsetting impact on capital costs, if they open in areas of need for increased capacity.

The report confirms what some have suspected: Continued growth of charter schools presents higher costs to the district than operating without such growth.”

That’s not to say that the report suggest MNPS should not approve future charter schools. The report makes recommendations for handling future growth of charter schools, including encouraging such growth in areas of the school system experiencing rapid student growth. The Board adopted just such a proposal earlier this year.

The recommendations for managing future growth include: Developing a process to identify and quantify indirect costs to MNPS, such as support services; establishing a separate fund to better account for direct and indirect costs; levying depreciation charges to charter operators leasing MNPS facilities; and identifying areas of the school district where charter school growth would help offset the need for MNPS capital growth and expenditures.

The study is likely to shape future discussions at the Board level about what direction future charter growth will take.

For more on education policy and politics in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

East Nashville Parents Call on Register to “Start Over”

In response to an announcement by Dr. Jesse Register that plans are in the works to shakeup schools in East Nashville, including closing some schools, handing some over to charter operators, and allowing the state’s Achievement School District to takeover others, a group of East Nashville parents held a meeting on Saturday to launch a formal response.

The group, calling itself East Nashville United, is forming a Political Action Committee (PAC) and is calling on Register to start over on any plans to change the way schools work in East Nashville.

Matt Pulle, who hosted Saturday’s meeting, said, “We’d like Dr. Register to tear up his plan for East Nashville and start again, this time by listening to us all.”

In response to Register’s planned community meetings in East Nashville, Pulle said, “We don’t see the purpose of these community meetings if he already knows what he wants to do. So, start over. No plan, no preconceptions and hear what local parents and teachers want and need. And go to all our neighborhoods.”

At least one mayoral candidate, Jeremy Kane, attended Saturday’s meeting.

The possibility that Inglewood Elementary School may become a part of the Achievement School District caused parents there to send a letter supporting the school’s principal and expressing concern about being included in the ASD.

Turning schools over to the ASD is becoming more controversial in light of data analysis that indicates the ASD is not doing better (and in some cases, is performing worse) than the schools were performing before ASD takeover.

For more on the East Nashville United group, follow @EastNashUnited

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport