The Finalists

The MNPS School Board has been presented with a slate of four finalists for the Director of Schools position. The Board may select from among the four presented or choose another candidate not listed. Currently, it seems the plan is to pursue further study of the four named finalists.

The Tennessean writes of the candidates:

• John Covington, consultant with the Broad Center. Covington is a former educator who has 29 years of experience in public education. He has worked in Pueblo, Colo.; Kansas City, Mo.; and served as the chancellor of the Education Achievement Authority of Michigan. The authority is somewhat similar to Tennessee’s Achievement School District.

Read Covington’s Application

• Angela Huff, chief of staff for the Cobb County School District. Huff, a Nashville native, oversees 110,000 students and a staff of more than 11,000 in the Atlanta school district. She has 31 years working in education as an assistant superintendent and principal in Cobb County, and she has also served as a teacher in Gwinnett County Public Schools.

Read Huff’s Application

• Mike Looney, Williamson County director of schools. Looney looks after a student population of 36,000, with almost 5,000 staff, in the neighboring Nashville district. He has 21 years experience as an educator, and under his leadership in Williamson, the district has been named one of the best in the state.

Read Looney’s Application

• Barry Shepherd, a retired Cabarrus County (N.C.) Schools superintendent. As superintendent of the Concord, N.C. district, Shepherd oversaw a student population of 31,000, with a staff of 4,000. He started his 30-year career in education as a music teacher and speaks some Spanish.

Read Shepherd’s Application

Today’s unveiling of candidates follows two weeks of controversy over who would be the interim Director of Schools.

And, this morning, Board Member Will Pinkston offered his thoughts on the priorities the next Director should emphasize.

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

A Board Member’s Thoughts on the Next Director of MNPS

MNPS Board Member Will Pinkston shares his thoughts on the next Director of MNPS
As a member of the Nashville School Board, a question I hear frequently right now is: “What are you looking for in the next director of Metro Nashville Public Schools?” Collectively, the board has outlined desired characteristics for the future leader of America’s 42nd-largest school system, including generic descriptors such as “has a clear vision of what is required to provide exemplary education services and implement effective change.” For my part, I’m looking for a leader who can tackle specific priorities that I believe represent some of the most meaningful opportunities to move MNPS to the next level. Below are 12 detailed priorities (in no particular order):
  1. Early childhood education. Expansion of pre-kindergarten is one of the only areas where the school board is in near-unanimous agreement. However, we’ve got a long way to go in defining the scope and costs of universal pre-K — with “universal” meaning every student and family that wants a seat, gets one. National research shows that pre-K is, dollar for dollar, one of the best investments we can make. We need to accelerate pre-K expansion locally, even if Governor Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell refuse to commit state resources to help.
  2. English learners. In Tennessee, 4.5 percent of public school students are English learners. In Nashville, more than 15 percent of our students are English learners. We are the most diverse school system in the state and one of the most diverse in America. If we can deliver the highest-quality educational services to our youngest New Americans, then I believe all boats will rise in our school system. At the school board’s direction, management has developed an “English Learner Innovation Plan” that outlines $16 million in new investments in areas such as language-intensive after-school programs, new technology to enable self-guided instruction, and more extensive teacher professional development. Another $23 million is proposed to reduce class sizes in schools with high percentages of English learners. In terms of the budget, this plan will require a multi-year phase-in. We need to get started now.
  3. Early-grade reading intervention. This priority goes hand-in-hand with English learner initiatives, and addresses much broader challenges and opportunities in our school system. The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, supported by philanthropies including the local Dollar General Literacy Foundation, says reading proficiency by third grade is the most important predictor of high-school graduation and career success. Unfortunately, only 37 percent of MNPS third-graders meet this standard. Ensuring that every student can read at grade level by the end of third grade is the most important thing we can do. We must aggressively expand reading intervention, and do it with a sense of urgency.
  4. Testing time. We know that students, teachers and parents are exasperated by over-testing. HBO comedian John Oliver recently captured the national obsession with testing in a brilliant 18-minute segment that has drawn more than 4.5 million views on YouTube. Alberto Carvalho, head of Miami-Dade public schools, is engineering “the most aggressive decommissioning of testing in the state of Florida, if not the country.” The next director of MNPS will immediately capture the hearts and minds of this community if he or she will commit to reducing testing time. My suggestion: Begin with Achieve’s “Student Assessment Inventory for School Districts,” a tool that school system leaders can use to take stock of their assessments and assessment practices.
  5. Turnaround strategies. Almost a year ago, MNPS more than doubled its number of low-performing schools on the state of Tennessee’s “priority” list, which identifies the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state based on standardized test scores. Our school system went from having six schools on the list in 2012 to, as of last year, 14 schools. Put differently: The number of students in exceedingly low-performing schools rose from 2,260 to 6,272, according to enrollment data in the state’s Report Card. Following criticism from the board, the last director scrambled to cobble together turnaround plans for each of the 14 priority schools. The next director needs to pressure-test those plans, determine if they’re sound and being implemented with fidelity, and build turnaround expertise in the Central Office and in the field. Nashville should have no schools on the state priority list.
  6. Funding adequacy. According to the Council of the Great City Schools, MNPS is ranked 54th out of 67 urban school systems in America in per-pupil funding. This is due, in large part, to inadequate state funding and refusals by the governor and legislature to commit new funding for public education. The legislature’s Basic Education Program (BEP) Review Committee estimates the BEP is under-funded by nearly $500 million, while education funding experts believe the actual number is likely in excess of $1 billion. Even using the review committee’s conservative estimate, MNPS would receive about $30 million more from the state, or an additional $350 per-pupil on top of current per-pupil state and local funding of $9,000. Tennessee’s system of funding public education was born in a courtroom in the 1980s. In keeping with our state’s modern history, a growing number of school systems now have filed lawsuits or are actively exploring litigation to challenge state funding inadequacy. MNPS may choose to join these efforts. The next director should vigorously advocate for more state funding, even if it means joining other school systems in court.
  7. Community engagement. Many of MNPS’s wounds are self-inflicted — especially when it comes to community engagement, or the lack thereof. During my time on the school board, poor communication has turned basic operational decisions, such as school rezonings and school sitings, into full-scale conflagrations with parents, students, citizens and taxpayers. A performance audit commissioned by the Metro Council, our funding authority, noted that the school system’s failings warranted the creation of a board committee specifically focused on “community and stakeholder relations.” This committee is up and running, but some board members have resisted setting minimum standards for community engagement. Notwithstanding board dysfunction, I believe the problem can be solved by a director who surrounds himself or herself with effective communicators who think and act strategically. Let’s fix this failing and eliminate these unnecessary distractions to the school system’s core mission of educating kids.
  8. Constituent services. Nashville’s nine elected school board members represent sprawling geographic districts in a county that covers 504 square miles. According to the latest U.S. Census estimates, our community’s population now exceeds 668,000 — which means each board member on average serves more than 74,000 parents, students, citizens and taxpayers. School board districts are larger than state House legislative districts. Yet board members have been deprived of the basic tools and supports needed to effectively respond to the constituents who elected us. Part of this is our own fault. As a group, we haven’t prioritized constituent services. At the same time, management has done little to develop the infrastructure needed to help board members deal with constituent concerns on a timely basis. Rebooting our approach to constituent services, along with creating new a community engagement strategy, will go a long way toward restoring public confidence in our school system.
  9. Teacher recruitment and retention. Despite repeated requests by board members, MNPS has not articulated a meaningful plan to recruit and retain the best teachers. Meanwhile, the National Council on Teacher Quality reports that two of the top four teacher-prep programs in America — Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University — are located within a stone’s throw of our school system’s Central Office. We should be hiring as many new teachers as possible from those two institutions and, as a major purchaser of teaching talent, we need to insist that other institutions step up their game. We also need a top-to-bottom review of our teacher compensation system to understand how we stack up against competing and similarly situated U.S. school systems, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Denver and Louisville. For teachers currently employed by MNPS, we need to be talking every day about how to provide the best professional development to help them help our kids. I want the next director to adopt the mantra of Alvin Wilbanks, the long-serving director of Georgia’s Gwinnett County schools: “There are two types of people who work for our system. Those who teach and those who support those who teach.” Amen.
  10. Leadership development. Think of MNPS as a system of 86,000 students. Further, think of MNPS as a system of 6,000 educators. Then, think of MNPS also as a system of 140 principals. Making sure there’s a top-notch leader in every school building is perhaps our biggest lever of change.
  11. Unabated charter growth. This is the defining issue for the Nashville School Board. Some board members, pandering to special interests intent on dismantling public education, want to continue unchecked growth of publicly financed privately run schools. Other board members believe it’s time to recommit to public education and protect finite resources to help students and teachers in existing schools. To put it in perspective: In 2010, the entire state of Tennessee had just 20 charter schools. This fall, in Nashville alone, 27 charters will operate at an annual cost of $75 million. Even if the school board approves no new charter applications, more than 6,500 additional charter seats — costing another $59 million a year — will come into existence by fall 2019 under current agreements. A comprehensive audit of MNPS found that when new charter schools open, they siphon funds from traditional schools while costs such as staffing, maintenance and technology can’t be easily adjusted. The audit validated a 2014 report commissioned by the school board that found “new charter schools will, with nearly 100 percent certainty, have a negative fiscal impact.” To be sure, some charter schools are doing good work (as are some MNPS schools). But simple math tells us that we cannot sustain unabated growth of new schools of any type without systematically starving existing schools. Balancing new investments across multiple sectors and priorities is a matter of fairness and responsibility.
  12. Leadership style. The previous MNPS director’s leadership style was to pit people against each other — board members, staff members, parent leaders, community leaders. I hope the next director will not lead by divide, but rather find a way to unite people and erase the culture of fear that pervades the school system. I also hope this person will demonstrate courage and intestinal fortitude when it comes to dealing with radical state policies. When the governor and legislature set out to punish the capital city’s school system, the director of schools should be the first person on the front line fighting for public education — not pandering out of political expediency.
Other priorities are important, too. Wraparound services like health screenings for low-income students and families. Exceptional education. Alignment between academic standards and instructional materials. Expansion of the MNPS free meals program. Technology in the classroom. Energy efficiency to drive cost-savings in a system with 14 million square feet of buildings. The list goes go on and on. But these are enough, for now. Looking ahead, let me propose the following compact: If our next director of MNPS will dream big, show some spine, commit to these priorities and others, and — here’s the really important part — back it all up with action, then he or she will have my full support. I promise.
Will Pinkston, a former reporter for The Tennessean and The Wall Street Journal, served as a top aide to former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen and represents South Nashville on the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education. Pinkston is a graduate of Metro Nashville Public Schools and he is an MNPS parent.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Who is Running MNPS?

Seems like a simple question. And, until last night, it had a simple answer. Dr. Jesse Register’s last day was to be June 30th. The interim role would then be handed to the district’s #2, Jay Steele, currently the Chief Academic Officer.  Steele would run the district for one to three months until a permanent Director of Schools was hired and in place.

But, it’s not that simple. Steele was appointed to the interim role on a 5-4 vote. That vote drew criticism from, among others, TN Ed Report’s own Zack Barnes.

Steven Hale over at the Nashville Scene has a good run down of what happened.

And now, the Board has appointed Chris Henson as interim director.

The appointment came in an emergency meeting called by Board Chair Sharon Gentry to address issues raised with the vote for Steele, including the open meetings complaint.

At last night’s meeting, Gentry admitted that she was at fault, at least in part, because after the motion to appoint Steele, she proceeded with the vote without calling for discussion.

Gentry also voted against appointing Steele – this would seem to be an indication that no decisions were made in secret, since the person who chose to move forward without discussion was on the losing side of the vote. Perhaps Gentry suspected she had the votes in favor of another candidate and called for the vote on Steele quickly in order to move on to her preferred interim director choice.

Gentry last night also suggested that one remedy for an open meetings violation was a new meeting and vote with a thorough discussion. Of course, as of last night, there was only a complaint, no guidance from the Comptroller regarding any violation.

And, as referenced in the Scene story and noted by J.R. Lind, the meeting was a procedural mess:

The emergency meeting appears to have been a procedural mess, as our J.R. Lind explains on Twitter. For instance, although the board members voted to reconsider their initial appointment of Steele, they never voted to rescind it.)

This marks the second consecutive meeting in which a major decision was mishandled by poor procedural leadership from Gentry.

Back to the original question: Who is running MNPS? As of today, it’s Chris Henson. As for the Board, that’s an open question.

 

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

MNPS, Annenberg, and Magnets

Last night, the MNPS School Board approved a set of standards to govern charter schools and agreed to also apply them to traditional district schools (though most already do apply).

Andrea Zelinski has the story:

Breathe easy. No one is changing rules for magnet schools, at least when it comes to selective enrollment.

The Metro Nashville Public School board approved nearly three dozen new requirements for regulating charter and traditional schools Tuesday night, like requiring regular reports on student mobility, posting school budgets and publishing details for any contracts over $10,000.

But the rules include banning schools from excluding or discouraging certain students from enrolling, such as is done at academic magnet schools like Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School and Hume Fogg Magnet High School or the Nashville School of the Arts — all district crown jewels with entrance requirements. The board ultimately exempted academic magnets and performing art schools from the new enrollment standard.

There’s more detail in the piece, including Zelinski’s play-by-play of the meeting.

More on the Annenberg Standards:

Annenberg May Apply to Magnets

Does TN Need Annenberg?

MNPS and Annenberg

A Call for Accountability

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

 

We Need Long Term Planning for Charters

The Tennessean has an op-ed by Harry Allen, an executive with Avenue Bank and board president of Purpose Preparatory charter school. He calls for a long-term plan for the future of our district in regards to charters. I think we sometimes get lost in the details about being pro/anti charter and forget to plan for the long term.

Charter schools are here to stay in Nashville. Thousands of students are served in charter schools throughout Nashville, and if you think that all of them are magically going to disappear, you need to rethink that notion.

Mr. Allen starts out with a great opening sentence:

The most successful organizations adapt to the changing environment around them in order to overcome challenges and remain effective.

Mr. Allen goes on to discuss findings of a study that was recently released in partnership with the Tennessee Charter School Association.

The study’s key findings include:

Charter schools in 2013-14 academically outperformed district-managed schools and are funded at similar levels, which means charters yielded a higher return on investment for taxpayers and families.

Though MNPS today is a choice-based system, the MNPS infrastructure — buildings, services and associated cost structure — reflects the past for which it was designed, one with limited parental choice.

It recommends an updated system that accounts for a future that includes a mix of district- and charter-managed public schools.

The majority of district financial expenses are variable in the long term and should be adjusted to reflect anticipated shifts in enrollment.

(Yes, commenters, how dare the Tennessee Charter School Association commission a study about charter schools. I know, it’s crazy that an organization would research a topic that they work in. While I am on the topic of studies, let’s not accept with open arms the Comptroller study on the ASD while saying the Comptroller study on MNPS was conducted by biased individuals. Hint: the same people did both studies. They are both flawed or both acceptable.)

Anyways, Mr. Allen goes on to quote Dr. Register as his conclusion.

“It is clear that shifts in student enrollment will require adjustments to our budgets that can only be made over multiple years,” he (Register) recently said. “Planning for these adjustments requires a long-term and collaborative approach that is responsive to parent demand and student enrollment decisions. We should take the time and make the effort to formulate the long-range impact.”

Dr. Register is spot-on — it’s imperative that MNPS adjust to the changing times. All organizations, whether for-profit or nonprofits, must occasionally adjust their planning to remain competitive. In this case, our city’s future depends on it.

Check out the oped, and let’s do some meaningful work in this area. We can spend hours every week in a doomsday scenario, or we can spend hours every week trying to come to a solution that will help lead our district into a prosperous future.

I would rather help lead our district into a prosperous future.

Wouldn’t you?


 

MNEA Backs Freeman

In a rather lengthy press release that features links to campaign ads and videos and touts endorsements from other labor groups, the Metro Nashville Education Association’s PAC announced its endorsement of Bill Freeman for Mayor of Nashville yesterday.

Freeman’s support for Community Schools and for expanded access to Pre-K are cited as reasons for the endorsement.

It’s worth noting that Freeman joined the majority of candidates for Mayor in saying he opposed the idea of MNPS suing the state for more BEP funds. Only Megan Barry and Charles Robert Bone have expressed support for that approach.

Here’s the release in its entirety:

Bill Freeman, candidate for Mayor of Nashville, was endorsed today by the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association as he launched a new television ad with a companion web video focused on his support of teachers, families and students in Davidson County.
“I am so happy to have received the endorsement of Nashville’s teachers, Freeman said. “These are the women and men who get up every day and dedicate themselves to teaching our children the skills and behaviors that will make them successful in the future.”
In the new television spot, Freeman said, “Nashville has the big downtown projects, but now we need to focus on the basics for our families and for all of our neighborhoods. On education, I will support Pre-K for all of our children, use incentives to keep and attract world-class teachers, innovate with community schools and better after school programs. For all our schools in all our neighborhoods we need the right strategy for Nashville to grow the right way.”

Schools Right: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAr_byDZksA

Bill Freeman on Education Companion Web Video:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4tJr–bAFE
MNEA’s endorsement caps a week where Freeman has received major endorsements from SEIU, that represents more than 3,000 Metro workers and the fire fighters that work to keep Davidson County residents safe.
MNEA President Stephen Henry said, “In spite of the fact there are seven candidates for mayor, we believe Bill Freeman is Nashville’s best choice for mayor.”

“Bill Freeman will be a champion for our public schools. He knows the challenges we face and appreciates the successes we’ve had.”

“Bill Freeman is an innovator at heart. His support of community schools indicates a deep understanding of what is needed to make Metro schools better and stronger for parents, teachers and all of our neighborhoods.“

“We’re behind Bill Freeman because we believe he will be the best advocate for students, teachers and all of us who believe every child has a right to an excellent education that prepares them for the future.  Bill Freeman will be a mayor who stands up for all children to get a great education no matter where they come from or what challenges they face.”
In the companion video that will run online at the same time as the new television commercial, Freeman goes into more depth about his belief that with more resources and the focus of the next mayor the image of Metro schools can be improved.
“Schools impact everybody. The biggest reason that families are moving outside of Davidson County into Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson County is because their school systems are deemed to be better than ours. Now, the fact is, that’s just not the case. There’s a reason the President of the United States came to Nashville and spoke at a public school. There’s a reason the First Lady came to Nashville, Tennessee and spoke at a public school. We have a fantastic public school system, we just need to do a better job selling it, make sure it has all the resources that it needs, and do everything we can to lift up and improve our public school system,” Freeman says in the web video.
Freeman Backs Community Schools
Community Schools offer wraparound services for students and families. They include before and after school programs, tutoring, mentoring, classes for students and adults who are learning English and classes for adults to earn their GED.
“I believe community schools offer an innovative solution to many of the challenges that Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) are facing,” Freeman said. “We need to move past the public school versus charter school argument, and get to real solutions that help our public schools. Currently, there are over 150 languages spoken by students in Metro schools and nearly 13,000 students are English language learners and 72 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged.”
“Community schools are not unusual around the country and the statistics speak for themselves,” explained Freeman.  “In Cincinnati they have converted 34 of their 55 public schools into community schools and the achievement gap between African American students and white students has shrunk dramatically, while graduation rates for all students have skyrocketed.”
The achievement gap between African American and white students in Cincinnati has dropped from 14.5 percent to just 4 percent, while graduation rates for all students have risen from just 51 percent to 82 percent.
Ruth Stewart, a doctor of family medicine in Nashville, as well as wife of State Representative Mike Stewart, is a huge proponent of community schools.

“I see it all the time in the kids I treat,” she said, “kids with poor health often do worse in school.  They’re out all the time because of something like asthma and their school doesn’t have a nurse that they can go to for help.
“What we need are more services that are inclusive for multi children families, that way those families don’t have to split up their kids between schools because one has services that make sense for one child and one has services that make sense for another.  We need to introduce community schools in all neighborhoods of Nashville, not just in impoverished areas.  The model has been proven to work in every area, and every child, and every neighborhood should be able to benefit,” she said.
“Nashville already has a Community Achieves program where they are slowly transitioning traditional public schools into the community school model,” said Bill Freeman.  “I plan to work with the program and monitor its progress and how it impacts student achievement and I would ultimately like to triple the number of schools participating in this process.”
“I will continue to encourage non-profit and for-profit organizations in Nashville to participate in the program as many are doing currently,” said Freeman.

Bill Freeman is the co-founder and current chairman of Freeman Webb Inc., a real estate management company.  Bill grew up in Donelson with five sisters and is a devoted husband to his wife, Babs Tinsley Freeman, father to their three sons, and grandfather to two girls. His first job was as a maintenance man and he built his company from the ground up with his partner and one employee who still works there today. His company has been voted a “Best Place to Work” three years in a row. He is a decade long board member of the Tennessee State University Foundation and has been an active supporter of the Sexual Assault Center as well as continuously working to provide housing for Nashville’s homeless along with the 10,000 Homes Campaign.
About the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Community Achieves Program:
Currently, there are 14 MNPS schools are in the program. ●      3 elementary schools ●      6 middle schools ●      5 high schools
The participating schools serve 11,865 students. Five more schools will be added this fall. The program is built on community partnerships, and more than 80 nonprofit and for-profit organizations in Nashville are participating.
Community Achieves is overseen by 14 full-time coordinators who manage the program across the 14 schools.
The programs focus on four areas of need:
1. Family Engagement — A family resource center, “parent university,” family suppers, events for dads and male role models
2. College and Career Readiness — FAFSA Night (to help college-bound students and their parents navigate all the federal student loan documents; tutoring and mentoring; reading clinics; and ACT programs
3. Health and Wellness — Mental health counseling; nutrition classes; health checkups
4. Social Services — Food pantries; workforce development and GED classes; financial classes
Bill Freeman’s goal will be to greatly expand the program to more MNPS schools and monitor its progress, not only in how it lifts families in need, but in how it impacts student academic achievement.
About the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association:  The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association represents Nashville’s teachers and is at the forefront of education reform. Through collaborations with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools and the Nashville community, MNEA helps to provide the highest level of education to ALL children and adults of MNPS.

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

 

My First Year Teaching

I made it!

I completed my first year of teaching. It was an eye opening experience that has helped mold my views in education in a variety of areas.

I am a special education teacher at a North Nashville middle school. Our fifth graders come into fifth grade already behind. It’s our job to catch them up during the middle school years before we send them off to high school. That shows me that we have dropped the ball along the way to middle school. We have come to a point where it’s okay that students come in to middle school behind. That shouldn’t be okay.

There are bad teachers and they should not be in the classroom. There isn’t more I can say about this. Every career field has bad workers, and the teaching profession is no different.

The TEAM evaluation made me a better teacher. The rubric was really helpful in my growth as a teacher. The feedback I received from my principal and assistant principal really helped. I knew what my principal expected from me and I met those expectations. I was glad that I was being held accountable.

(Don’t get me started on teacher prep programs.)

In regards to TCAP testing, I did not see the scary testing chamber where we take the fun out of education and force the students to bubble in answer sheets for days at the time. We hit the standards that needed to be hit during the year, and we cycled back through a review when we got closer to TCAP. We still taught new concepts, read new books, started new projects, and had fun. Schools decide their climate, and my climate was not like any of the scary stories that I read online. Assessments are an important tool in the education of our students. They are needed to make sure that I am doing what I am supposed to as a teacher. I am glad that the accountability is there.

 

I did a lot this school year:

I’ve broken up fights.

I’ve had to stop students from harming themselves.

I had to use our school’s resources to get a student clothing so he didn’t have to wear the same clothes every day.

I have given a legislative update to teachers.

One of our students was shot in the head while standing in the doorway to his home.

Student’s parents have been murdered.

I have seen a mother cry tears of joy that her son was receiving a quality education.

I have seen parents beam with pride about how well their student is doing in life.

A parent has yelled at me.

I’ve read all the Common Core State Standards for 7th grade.

I have taken to twitter to get someone to donate books to my class.

I have been sick. A lot.

I have given a tour to a school board member.

I have written an op-ed in the Tennessean about our school board.

I have gotten pushback from school board members about my op-ed.

After my op-ed, people inside my school told me to watch what I say in public about my school board.

I have been mad, frustrated, sad, happy, joyful, excited, and angry.

I have seen a student do better by getting more special education services.

I have seen a student grow by reducing the amount of special education services.

I have read a loud many different types of texts.

I’ve made others cry when describing students at my school.

I’ve become frustrated when teachers tell me it’s okay that students are behind because everyone else in behind.

I got students to read and enjoy books.

I’ve heard a teacher say that you can only teach a student for so long before you need to give up and help the other kids.

I have seen teachers work mornings, nights, and weekends so that our students could succeed. One teacher would teach during the day, tutor after school multiple days, tutor on Saturday, and teach Sunday school the next day.

 

No matter where our students grow up, they can all learn and succeed in our education system. I have seen students come into our school that are so behind. We have failed that child along the way. Someone dropped the ball and that makes me really sad. But we need to accept blame for dropping the ball.

 

Everyone wants to blame someone else for a child being behind:

“They came from charter.”

“They are special ed.”

“They come from a bad part of town.”

Before that student left for a charter, they were most likely in a zoned school first. All students can learn, including students with disabilities. No matter where you come from, you are able to learn at the hands of great teachers.

We want to blame everyone but ourselves. I’ve made mistakes this year, but I know that I will come back next year and fix those mistakes. I will admit that there are problems that still need to be fixed in my teaching method, in my personality, and in the school system as a whole. Sugarcoating issues in life doesn’t make it better. I would rather be honest about education than to sugarcoat and lie about the state of our education system.

Who will lead MNPS?

With the initial round of applications coming to a close, some 50 people are expected to be candidates for the job of Director of MNPS.

But, according to a story in the Nashville Scene, those candidates don’t include many “heavy hitters.”

“There aren’t any heavy hitters — by that I mean people with real experience in large urban districts, and that’s what we’re still working on,” says Bill Attea, founder of Chicago-based superintendent search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates.

Instead, people are applying to upgrade from small or mid-sized school districts such as Bridgeport, Conn., Eugene, Ore., and Tallahassee, Fla. — places where Nashville would double or triple the size of their current student body. Candidates who do hail from the large cities Nashville strives to compete with may come from a district’s headquarters, but not necessarily as superintendents.

Andrea Zelinski does include a list of all 34 individuals who have completed applications thus far. Among them, current MNPS Chief Academic Officer Jay Steele. Another local candidate is Office of Innovation Executive Director Alan Coverstone, a former School Board Member.

Here’s our interview with Steele from 2013.

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

Does TN Need Annenberg?

Recently, the MNPS School Board adopted the Annenberg Institute’s standards for the operation and oversight of charter schools.

The measure passed by a 5-3 vote, with charter advocates suggesting the standards may not be necessary.

As Nashville’s education community prepares for a proposed RESET of its conversation, it’s important to understand why standards like those recommended by Annenberg could be helpful in Nashville and, in fact, in all of Tennessee.

First, charters are expensive. According to recent reports, they are becoming a key cost-driver in MNPS. That’s fine, if that’s what the community wants and what students need. But, the Annenberg Standards put into place a level of accountability and transparency designed to prevent fraud and abuse. That protects parents, kids, and taxpayers.

Next, without proper oversight, charters fraud can go unchecked. A recent report out of Louisiana suggests as much:

Louisiana understaffs its charter schools oversight offices and, instead of proactively investigating these schools, relies on charters’ own reports and whistleblowers to uncover problems, according to a report released Tuesday (May 12) by the Center for Popular Democracy and the Coalition for Community Schools. That allows theft, cheating and mismanagement to happen, such as the $26,000 stolen from Lake Area New Tech High and the years of special education violations alleged at Lagniappe Academies.

The challenges faced in Louisiana should be a cautionary tale for those who want to remake MNPS in the mold of New Orleans.

If we’re going to have a new conversation in Nashville about schools, it makes sense to do so under guidelines that foster transparency and accountability, such as the Annenberg Standards. In fact, as Leigh Dingerson from Annenberg suggests, all of Tennessee may well benefit from adopting these standards to govern the operation and oversight of charter schools.

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

 

 

Report Card on MNPS

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce released its annual Report Card on Metro Schools yesterday. The group made 5 policy recommendations, including asking the MNPS School Board to wait until after the new Mayor is elected in August of 2015 before finalizing a Director of Schools.

Here are the recommendations from the Chamber press release:

  • The Nashville Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
  • MNPS’ pay supplement system should be reformed to financially reward teachers who assume a leadership position at their school.
  • MNPS should highlight issues which impede school-level autonomy to identify needed policy or statute changes.
  • The Metro Nashville Board of Education should take action to recommit itself to policy governance and professional development in order to establish steps toward developing consensus moving forward.
  • The school board should hire a new director of schools after the election of a new mayor in 2015.

Here’s how Report Card committee members explained the suggested delay on a Director choice until after the Mayor’s election:

“The director of schools reports to the Metro Nashville Board of Education,” said Committee Co-chair Brian Shaw. “But our committee felt it will be critically important for both the educational leadership and the political leadership of our community have strong working relationships, and the upcoming election for mayor and Metro Council is critical to that.”

“The school board has a tremendous amount of work to do to get to the point where they are ready to hire a new director, so we understand the need to go ahead and begin the search process soon,” said committee Co-chair Jackson Miller. “We believe knowing who our next mayor is before the finalists are identified eliminates a big question mark in the minds of the quality candidates we are trying to recruit.”

The Metro Nashville Education Association weighed-in on the Report Card, essentially agreeing with the core recommendations but adding that teacher input is needed going forward and that funding for teacher pay must be a priority. The MNEA agrees that a new Director should not be hired until the new mayor has been elected.

Here’s what MNEA had to say, from their press release:

  • In addition to the annual monitoring by the Chamber’s Report Card committee, the success of MNPS’ strategic plan, Education 2018, a plan to become the highest performing urban school district in the United States, will be dependent on the support of all of Nashville, especially its students, teachers, and leaders.
  • MNEA has long supported more pay for teachers who assume leadership responsibilities. However, its implementation will be contingent upon the district making it a funding priority.
  • Both nationally and internationally, highly success schools exist where there is teacher autonomy. Yet experience tells us that in the absence of an accountability structure and/or the will to create one, school-level, or principal autonomy, will lead to chaos and injustice.
  • In 2002 the MNPS Board of Education adopted policy governance. No member of the current board served during 2002, nor did any member vote to adopt this form of governance. The current elected board should either recommit to policy governance or choose a form of governance that best serves their needs, and most importantly, best serves the needs of Nashville’s students.
  • The hiring of the next MNPS Director of Schools should not occur without input from Nashville’s students, parents, teachers, and new mayor.

 

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