Cameron: From Lowest Performing to Reward School

Chris Reynolds, the CEO of LEAD Public Schools, is out with an editorial in the Tennessean. The editorial discusses how Cameron has been transformed from the lowest preforming school in the state with declining enrollment to a reward school for growth and a 20% growth in enrollment.

Cameron was a Black high school in Nashville during segregation and graduated many of the Black leaders in Nashville. Thanks to the amazing partnership with MNPS, the Cameron facility just held it’s first graduation in 40 years! Every person in the graduating class was accepted to a four year college. That’s a great way to continue the legacy of Cameron.

Here’s a small portion of the editorial:

In just five years, Cameron has been transformed, and we have learned a great deal about what it takes to engineer such a successful turnaround. We have learned that our vision of success for all students works. Cameron serves a high number of students with special needs, extraordinarily high numbers of English language learners, and accepts all students at all times of the year, just like any other school does. No one is turned away, yet our expectations remain high. Cameron (like three other LEAD campuses) has now become a top 5 percent Reward School for growth. In addition, the transformation has brought nearly 20 percent more enrollment back to the neighborhood school, reducing the number of students who had once been opting out for other schools.

Our families are thrilled that Cameron has been restored as the reliable educational asset it once was, and we are honored to be able to serve our community in this way. Our teachers and staff have done truly special work that is a lighthouse for what the future can hold for all students. We have learned that partnership is not always easy, but is the best path to sustained success. We have also learned a great deal about what students and families in the most vulnerable of circumstances face and how to support them.

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

Nashville’s Not Alone

The involvement of Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE in this year’s MNPS school board races has been the source of a bit of controversy, from promoting (then deleting) an event with Stand for Children to a Phil Williams story raising questions about the source of funding and lack of disclosure.

A group of incumbent board members have said they won’t attend the upcoming forum and Zack Barnes on this blog asks questions about that decision.

This all may seem a bit much over a group that bills itself as a grassroots collection of parents dedicated to improving school quality.

Of course, Nashville has seen what an organic grassroots schools movement looks like. Just look at East Nashville United as one example.

There’s something a little different about Renaissance/RISE and it merits further examination.

As the Phil Williams story points out, Nashville RISE is incredibly well-funded, backed by money from philanthropic interests and by supporters of the charter school movement. Also backed by some donors who don’t want their identities revealed.

But there’s more. Project Renaissance/Nashville RISE is part of a national network of groups known as Education Cities.

Here again, the mission sounds pretty nice:

Our members are nonprofit organizations that create and coordinate ecosystems that foster the growth of high-quality public schools in their respective cities. Together, our members are improving opportunities for millions of children and their families. To find out more about our members, please click on the map or list below.

But, it’s difficult to find a true “success” story among the so-called “Education Cities.”

A closer look at two cities with Education Cities member organizations that have impacted education policy reveals a need for caution.

First, a look at Minneapolis and a group called MN Comeback. Sarah Lahm reports on this group:

In Minneapolis, MN Comeback has been meeting privately for at least a few years, and busily concocting a vague but “doable” plan to “remake our entire city’s education system.” This plan centers on the creation of 30,000 “rigorous and relevant seats” across the city, in “sector agnostic” settings, meaning they don’t care where these seats are–charter, private or traditional public school–as long as they are “high performing.”

This may all sound quite familiar, in that the rhetoric of Renaissance/RISE and Nashville’s charter sector is consistently focused on quality “seats” rather than the children who occupy those seats.

Further, Lahm notes:

Clearly, the privately managed, privately funded MN Comeback–which bears no responsibility to the “seats” it hopes to serve–has had its hands in the Minneapolis schools for some time. And their range is focused: the CPS model is one of only three things being “supported” by MN Comeback, according to the Education Cities website. The other two are MinnCAN, whose flush, reformy thumbprints are all over every MN Comeback policy “team,” and the IFF, a Chicago-based nonprofit that specializes in real estate consulting for “low-income communities.”

Next, let’s turn to Indianapolis, where their version of Renaissance/RISE is called The Mind Trust. You guessed it, The Mind Trust is also an Education Cities member. Also, Project Renaissance lists Ken Bubp as a Board Member and notes his role as Vice President of The Mind Trust.

What you are about to read may sound eerily familiar, as current MNPS board member Amy Frogge recently raised concerns about the high cost of school board races in Nashville.

Regarding the education scene in Indianapolis, Justin Miller reports for the American Prospect:

At the epicenter of the city’s reform push was the Mind Trust, a local education-reform group that promotes more school choice, autonomy, and charter partnerships. To do those things, the district needed a friendly superintendent and a sympathetic school board. The Mind Trust helped bring in DFER, the advocacy group Stand For Children, and the network of political money that came with them.

Sound familiar?

Miller continues, noting how Mind Trust-friendly groups and donors helped dramatically increase the cost of School Board races in Indy:

By the end, Cosby had raked in a total of nearly $80,000. Two other reform candidates were elected with more than $60,000 in support, including $10,000 checks from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The purchase of the Indianapolis School Board by outside groups continued, as Miller notes:

In her campaign to oust Roof, who had been elected board president, from Roof’s at-large seat, Sullivan (the reform candidate) raised more than $70,000, inundating the city with mailers, phone-banking, and paid media. She trounced Roof by more than 25 percentage points.

Miller suggests that what happened in Indianapolis is part of a broader, national effort supported by the likes of the Broad and Walton Foundations.

And here’s something interesting about all that: The funders of Education Cities include The Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, and The Gates Foundation — the Big Three in corporate education reform.

Perhaps more interesting is the group of partners, including the pro-voucher Fordham Institute.

All of the above are big players in the drive to remake American public schools, though it is difficult for that group to point to a true “Education City” success story.

What is clear is Renaissance/RISE is following a playbook developed by outside interests. Looking to Minneapolis or Indianapolis can help us see where that playbook may lead Nashville.

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


 

 

 

 

Please Read the Letter

Zack wrote earlier about what he calls the “slippery slope” of the escalating issue with Nashville RISE and some MNPS school board candidates.

For the sake of clarity, here is the letter sent by Will Pinkston, Amy Frogge, and Jill Speering to David Plazas regarding the upcoming forum.

In the interest of transparency, and on the heels of yesterday’s reporting by WTVF-TV, we the undersigned members of the Nashville School Board are asking you to read aloud this letter to organizers and attendees at the upcoming Project Renaissance school board candidates’ forum.

As incumbent members of the local school board, and survivors of four years of attacks by the national charter school and voucher movement, we are skeptical of organizations that appear to promote vouchers or unabated charter school growth at the expense of students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers.

We understand from WTVF’s reporting that Project Renaissance is an organization largely funded in 2015 by the Scarlett Family Foundation, whose founder is one of Tennessee’s leading supporters of charter schools and vouchers to divert public funds to private schools. Other major contributors to Project Renaissance included the Vanguard Charitable Trust, a “donor-advised fund” whose donors apparently do not want their identities disclosed, and the Sunnyside Foundation, whose stated mission is to provide “financial assistance to practicing Christian Scientists who reside in the state of Texas.”

Additionally, we understand that Project Renaissance currently is funded by, or seeking funds from, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which is attempting to convert half of the public schools in Los Angeles, Calif., into charter schools. Project Renaissance has not, to our knowledge, publicly released its list of contributors, to date, in 2016.

We have repeatedly asked Project Renaissance to fully disclose its current sources of funding and organizational support – for expenditures including, but not limited to, a month-long television advertising campaign as well as political activities coordinated with Stand for Children, a national group that is inserting itself into local school board races through candidate endorsements, candidate campaign contributions, and negative attacks. Project Renaissance has not responded to requests for disclosure of its current funding sources and only shared its 2015 contributor list after receiving pressure from WTVF.

With this letter, we are not attempting to re-litigate the now universally-recognized fact that the unabated growth of charter schools has a negative fiscal impact on existing schools, or the fact that an overwhelming majority of Tennesseans are opposed to vouchers. Instead, we are simply objecting to the general lack of transparency by Project Renaissance — especially regarding donor contributions in 2016 that may be supporting its current activities, including the upcoming candidates’ forum.

Without full disclosure and transparency, we cannot achieve a trusting and productive dialogue. For these reasons, we will not participate in the June 23 forum hosted by Project Renaissance. If students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers need to reach us, we are easily accessible. Our contact information can be found on the school board’s web page at MNPS.org.

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

Phil Williams on Nashville RISE

Questions about Nashville RISE were raised here last week and now, Newschannel5’s Phil Williams has even more. Here’s his report on the group, which is an offshoot of Project Renaissance:


 

 

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

 

Nashville Rise to Host School Board Candidate Forum

Mark your calendars, Nashville!

Nashville Rise, a grassroots group of parents who are trying to elevate the parent voice in Nashville, is hosting a school board candidate forum later this month.

Date: Thursday, June 23, 2016
Time: 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm, with doors opening at 5:30 pm
Location: Tennessee State University, Avon Williams Campus, 330 10th Ave North, Nashville, 37203
Who will be there? School board candidates from each district that is up for election this year.
Who is moderating? David Plazas, the Opinion Editor for the Tennessean will be moderating. There will also be a panel of parents there to ask the candidates questions.

Transportation to the event and interpreters will be provided. Please RSVP at info@projectrenaissancenashville.org or 629-888-9692

I love that there will be a panel of parents asking questions!

Parents involved with Nashville Rise have been going door to door to invite parents and community members to attend the forum. In preparation for the event, Nashville Rise has released a TV ad and direct mailer to invite community members to the forum.

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I hope to see you on June 23rd!

TC Weber and the Return of the Summer Blockbuster

TC Weber thinks he sees blockbuster potential in this summer’s Nashville School Board race:

I’d argue that this year’s Metro Nashville Public Schools board race meets the criteria for a summer blockbuster, and with Stand For Children involved, it even has its own Michael Bay. For those of you who don’t regularly attend movies, Bay is a director known for elevating the blockbuster format through the increased use of explosions, beautiful people, and minimal substance. In other words, with apologies to William Faulkner, sound and fury signify nothing. To this point, that is exactly what the MNPS school board race has been. You have social media dust ups, campaign managers from one campaign resigning just before the filing deadline to launch their own campaigns, and other candidates attacking a spouse’s work record like it was their opponent’s. All entertaining to watch, but largely lacking substance.

The whole post outlines special interest groups, candidate recruitment, and all the other characters that make a blockbuster truly exciting. Also, he makes some recommendations on candidates he deems worthy of support.


 

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

Dr. Shawn Joseph Announces Key Staff

Today, Dr. Shawn Joseph announced key staff appointments in Metro Nashville Pubic Schools. He has named a Chief Academic Officer, Chief of Schools, and Chief Operating Officer. 

Chief Academic Officer: Dr. Monique Felder, currently serves as Executive Director of Teaching and Learning at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.

Chief of Schools: Dr. Sito Narcisse, current Associate Superintendent for High School Performance at Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland.

Chief Operating Officer: Chris Henson, current interim Director of Schools and Chief Financial Officer for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Update: The Tennessean reported that Fred Carr, Chief Operating Officer, did not have his contract renewed.

See below for the press release that was sent to teachers and staff:

As Metro Schools’ employees, we want you to be among the first to know that our new Director of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph, has announced the first three members of his executive cabinet in naming a chief academic officer, chief of schools and chief operating officer. Under the new executive structure planned by Dr. Joseph, one additional cabinet member—chief of staff—will be named before the team officially begins work in their new roles on July 1. 

The chief academic officer position is being filled by Monique Felder, Ph.D., who currently serves under Dr. Joseph in Prince George’s County Public Schools in Maryland as the executive director of teaching and learning. Sito Narcisse, Ed.D., has been named chief of schools. Dr. Narcisse also comes from Prince George’s County but with strong Nashville ties, having earned his master’s degree from Vanderbilt University and serving as a student teacher at Antioch High School. Current Interim Director of Schools and Chief Financial Officer Chris Henson has been appointed to serve as chief operating officer.

Chief academic officer and chief operating officer are existing positions on the district’s executive team. Each will be reshaped with a new scope of work. Chief of schools and chief of staff are newly defined positions. These changes to the district’s leadership structure result in a reduction in the number of direct reports to the director of schools from six to four.

“Our goal is to ensure we have a structure that effectively serves students, families and schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “The four chiefs will work closely together so that silos within the organization are broken down. The new executive team will be expected to work cross-collaboratively to give clear direction and effective supports to our school leaders, educators, staff and students.”

Dr. Felder has over 25 years of experience as an educator. She has served as a teacher, principal and a district administrator for advanced learning. She holds a bachelor’s in elementary education, a master’s with a specialization in elementary science and math and a Ph.D. in educational leadership and policy studies. She also holds an advanced certificate in equity and excellence in education.

As chief academic officer, Dr. Felder will oversee all aspects of instruction and curriculum from prekindergarten through graduation. While this position previously oversaw principal and teacher supervision in addition to academics, it will now focus on student learning and social and emotional supports for students.

“If we are going to have real academic alignment through all grades and the highest quality instruction for all students, we need a chief who only thinks about teaching, learning and the social / emotional supports that are needed for student success,” said Dr. Joseph.

Dr. Narcisse’s career has taken him from teaching locally in Nashville and Williamson County to serving as a school leader in Pittsburgh City Public Schools and Boston Public Schools. He also worked on school improvement in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland and as associate superintendent working on school improvement in Prince George’s County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in French from Kennesaw State University, a master’s from Vanderbilt in secondary education and a doctorate in educational administration, policy studies and leadership from the University of Pittsburgh.

In his role as chief of schools, Dr. Narcisse will be responsible for overseeing the mentoring, support and evaluation of all school-based administrators.

“Dr. Narcisse and Dr. Felder will bring an intentional focus on excellence and equity to Metro Schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “Their collaborative spirits and propensity for research-based practices will strengthen our strategic plans. They both possess the passion and sense of urgency needed to ensure that all kids receive high-quality learning opportunities. We are fortunate to be adding two highly-skilled equity leaders to our team.”

Henson has been with Metro Schools since 2002, serving as chief financial officer and twice as interim director of schools. He became the interim nearly one year ago, in July of 2015, and previously served in the role in 2008. Under his leadership, MNPS was the first district in Tennessee to be awarded the Meritorious Budget Award for Excellence by the Association of School Business Officials. Before coming to Nashville, he served as CFO for Franklin Special Schools and Sumner County Schools. His expertise in school finance and operations is unmatched in Tennessee. He has served on the State Board of Education’s Basic Education Program (BEP) Review Committee for over 15 years, recently served as a member of the Governor’s BEP Task Force, and is a past president of the Tennessee Association of School Business Officials. He began his career with Deloitte and holds a bachelor’s in accounting and business administration from Trevecca Nazarene University.

As chief operating officer, Henson will continue to oversee the district’s finances but also take on an expansion of his current responsibilities, overseeing all operational and business aspects of the district.

“Mr. Henson is a proven leader, and I thank him for serving so well as interim director of schools,” said Dr. Joseph. “This realignment allows us to streamline business operations and provide better services and supports to schools and communities.”

Additional staff announcements will come later this summer, including a full organizational chart expected in July.

 


 

 

 

Nashville RISE Enters School Board Fray

Nashville RISE, a political engagement project of Project Renaissance, has entered the MNPS School Board Race with an ad touting an upcoming candidate forum.

RISE says their vision is to:

We will build a network of empowered parents through training and leadership development, collaborating to influence and increase high quality in schools for children in all of Davidson County.

As advocates for effective instruction for all students, and in an effort to close the achievement gap, we will focus on giving cultural diversity importance in building parent-staff relationships. Recognizing that every student and family has different needs, we will strive to help schools to care for students and families holistically by bridging the connection with outside resources and programs for success.

The rhetoric around “high-quality” seats in Nashville schools echoes that of the Tennessee Charter School Center’s analysis of “quality seats” in MNPS. That analysis came under scrutiny from Board Member Amy Frogge.

Additionally, Nashville RISE previously listed (until earlier today) among its upcoming events a “Day of Action” with Stand for Children, an organization with a PAC that recently released a list of endorsements in the School Board races.

Here’s a screenshot of the Day of Action which is no longer included on the Nashville RISE or Project Renaissance pages:

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Because of RISE’s non-profit status, it is not obligated to disclose its donors.

On its website, the organization pledges: “Let’s bring stronger educational options to the city of Nashville. Our children deserve it.”

The implication being that more options need to be brought in, rather than built-up from within the system. Coupled with the co-opting of the Charter Center language around quality seats, RISE appears to be advocating a rather specific solution.

Worth watching as RISE moves forward will be how it frames issues related to schools and the solutions, if any, it proposes to improve public education in Nashville.

Here’s the ad:


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

 

A Bit of a Puzzle

Stand for Children is out with it’s list of endorsements in the School Board race and here’s how they start:

With a committed Mayor and the recent selection of Dr. Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools, there remains one major missing piece to improving our public education system: a better school board.

Interestingly, Stand advocates throwing out most of the incumbents running for re-election in order to achieve that “better board.”

But, it’s worth noting that most of the candidates Stand opposes supported Megan Barry in her campaign and the Board united to select Shawn Joseph as Director of Schools. That committed Mayor and new Director came about in as a result of the work of the current Board, not in spite of it.

Nevertheless, Stand says:

Imagine for a moment that we spent the next four years not rehashing the same old fights, but instead debating the best way to attract and support a great principal at every school; the best way to retain and develop our incredible educators; the most innovative ways to support our growing immigrant populations; and or the best way to ensure schools receive adequate and equitable funding and support.

While there have certainly been some vigorous debates on the School Board about how best to serve students in MNPS, the Board also adopted a revised pay scale designed to make the district more attractive to new teachers and bring teacher pay in line with similar urban districts. That same budget also made important investments in support of English Language Learners.

As for adequate and equitable funding, the MNPS Board has taken the state to task for leaving behind the promise of BEP 2.0.

The debate over charters is an important part of the discussion about MNPS, and there are certainly multiple perspectives. On one hand, you have those who raise the issue of cost and on the other, you have those who suggest the cost isn’t that high and the money spent is worth it. Arguably, both sides want what Stand says it wants: A Board focused on what’s best for kids.

Or, maybe they just want less of what they perceive as bickering. Or less dissent from a certain agenda.

The MNPS Board isn’t perfect, but working with Mayor Barry and hiring Shawn Joseph demonstrate a willingness to look past personal differences and focus on what really matters.

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


 

 

Amy Frogge on the High Cost of School Board Races

MNPS Board Member Amy Frogge talks about the high cost of School Board races, using her own experience of being outspent 5-1 as an example. Here’s her Facebook post on the issue:

When I first ran for school board four years ago, it was the start of a new era for local elections. In prior years, no one paid much attention to school board races, and $15,000 was considered a good haul for a school board candidate. So you can imagine how shocked I was to learn that my opponent had raised $125,000 for our race! She was the highest funded candidate in the history of Nashville’s school board races.

Ultimately, I was able to raise around $25,000 for my own race (which was very difficult for me!). I spent months knocking on neighbor’s doors campaigning. Through hard work and with a lot of help from my friends and unpaid volunteers, I was able to build a strong grassroots campaign that allowed me to overcome the odds. Despite being outspent 5 to 1, I managed to win by a 2 to 1 margin- which just goes to show that money doesn’t always determine the outcome of political races in smaller local elections.

Many candidates in Nashville’s school board races now routinely raise around $80,000 for school board elections. You should ask: Why is so much money being poured into small school board races? What is at stake for the funders of these elections, particularly when the funders do not even have children in our public school system? This eye-opening article explains it well.

Nashville is part of a larger network of cities where school board seats are being bought by outside corporate interests seeking to expand charter schools (and to make money in other ways, such as through for-profit testing). I’ve seen this very clearly at the national conferences I’ve attended, where I learned that the same organizations and funders (often billionaires!) are involved nationwide. School board elections in many major urban cities have turned into high-dollar, contentious events with money flowing in from unlikely sources. This has led to the fracturing of local school boards, which have been divided by outside special interests. (Already, I expect some nasty personal attacks from these outside interests during my campaign this summer.)

Watch our school board races carefully this year. It will become clear from donations who is backed by special interests. Their campaigns will be slick and shiny, run by high-dollar PR firms, and you will likely be impressed by the marketing. But please be wary of these candidates and the agenda their backers are trying to drive for our local schools. It is not about the best interests of children.

[From the article below:

“A network of education advocacy groups, heavily backed by hedge-fund investors, has turned its political attention to the local level, with aspirations to stock school boards — from Indianapolis and Minneapolis to Denver and Los Angeles — with allies. . . . The same big-money donors and organizational names pop up in news reports and campaign-finance filings, revealing the behind-the-scenes coordination across organizational, geographic and industry lines. The origins arguably trace back to Democrats for Education Reform, a relatively obscure group founded by New York hedge funders in the mid-2000s.
The hedge-fund industry and the charter movement are almost inextricably entangled. Executives see charter-school expansion as vital to the future of public education, relying on a model of competition. They see testing as essential to accountability. And they often look at teacher unions with unvarnished distaste. Several hedge-fund managers have launched their own charter-school chains. You’d be hard-pressed to find a hedge-fund guy who doesn’t sit on a charter-school board.”]

Here’s the article she cites from Bill Moyers.

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