Dr. Jesse Register calls on East Nashville to help build a plan for creating more high-quality school choices

Metro Schools to form community advisory committee

Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register is calling for a formal community advisory committee to help build a plan for the future of East Nashville public schools. Together with on-going faculty and parent meetings, this committee represents a full commitment to community input and participation in the development of a plan for turning around low-performing schools and ensuring high-quality educational choices for all students in East Nashville.

Dr. Register is working closely with schools, leaders and stakeholder groups to form the East Nashville Priority Schools Advisory Committee. It will be made up of community-appointed representatives who can speak on behalf of their peers and unify East Nashville behind quality public education.

“This advisory committee is a natural outgrowth of the parent meetings we’ve been having for the last three weeks,” said Dr. Register. “I’ve already met with hundreds of parents. Many of them have different opinions, but we’re hearing common themes come up again and again – most notably their shared desire with us to have high-quality neighborhood schools. The next step for us is to bring together a group of representative voices to focus the conversation into substantive, usable recommendations from the community.”

The committee will be made up of 20 representatives, all appointed by important stakeholders in this issue. Members will meet regularly to receive a progress update on the planning process from the district’s administration and report the feedback and ideas of the community. The end goal is to develop general consensus on recommendations that represent community and stakeholder opinions that can be used in finalizing a proposal for the Board of Education.

Dr. Register added, “This committee will help ensure every voice in East Nashville is heard. Together, we can build a community of successful schools for all students.”

Committee appointments are expected in the coming days, with a meeting schedule to be decided soon.

Expected appointments:

  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster parent
  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster student
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster parent
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster student
  • Councilman Peter Westerholm will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Anthony Davis will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Scott Davis will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Councilman Karen Bennett will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Kirkpatrick Elementary principal Mildred Nelson will work with parents to appoint a Kirkpatrick parent; Ms. Nelson will also appoint a Kirkpatrick teacher
  • Inglewood Elementary principal Carrie Mickle will work with parents to appoint an Inglewood parent; Ms. Mickle will also appoint an Inglewood teacher
  • Bailey Middle principal Christian Sawyer will work with parents to appoint a Bailey parent; Dr. Sawyer will also appoint a Bailey teacher
  • Jere Baxter Middle principal Miriam Harrington will work with parents to appoint a Jere Baxter parent; Ms. Harrington will also appoint a Jere Baxter teacher
  • Register will work with the district’s lead principals to appoint a principal from one priority school
  • East Nashville charter school leaders will appoint one representative
  • East Nashville United will appoint one representative
  • Community PTO will appoint one representative

Fact Sheet: What could an East Nashville “all choice zone” really look like?

Highlights: 

  • The goal of creating an “all choice zone” in East Nashville is to provide equitable school choice for all families
  • Transportation will be provided to any school a family chooses in the cluster
  • Students will still have a guaranteed seat at their zoned school, if that is the school they choose
  • All schools in the cluster will have open enrollment, if additional seats are available beyond zoned enrollment
  • No one will be automatically enrolled in their zoned school; all families must make a choice
  • The existing lottery system will be used to determine which students receive seats if they choose a school in high demand
  • School zones will not be changed as part of this plan
  • The Geographic Priority Zone (GPZ) for Lockeland will not be changed; families in the GPZ will still have first choice

Undecided details: 

The creation of an “all choice zone” in East Nashville is a plan in progress. Input from community members, school faculty, and consultants is being sought to decide a number of details, including:

  • “Stay-put policy”: The district administration’s goal is to greatly reduce student mobility (the number of students who frequently change schools), which is known to have a negative impact on student performance. A “stay-put policy” is being considered for the all choice zone in East Nashville, which would allow students to remain in their original choice school for a full academic year.
  • Cross cluster choice: Whether the “all choice zone” allows students in the Maplewood and Stratford clusters to choose schools in only their clusters or in either of the East Nashville clusters still has to be determined and will impact the transportation plan.
  • Transportation plan: While the district’s operations division indicates that the transportation component of the “all choice zone” is feasible, the exact costs and implementation strategy are yet to be determined. A transportation consultant specializing in this type of work has been engaged to help develop the transportation plan.

The Problem: School choice is not equal for all families

Metro Nashville Public Schools aims to provide every family “school choice,” meaning the opportunity to find the best school fit for their child’s individual needs and learning style. To that end, families may choose to send their child to their zoned school or apply to an optional school using the Optional Schools Application, which opens annually during the fall.

While there are many high-quality school choices available, transportation is a significant factor in determining which families in Nashville / Davidson County have the opportunity to exercise choice. In most cases, school bus transportation is only provided for families who choose their zoned school and live more than 1.25 miles from the school, which is the requirement by state law. This forces many families living in poverty and working-class families to choose their zoned school, even when it’s low-performing. 

The Solution: An “All Choice Zone” in East Nashville

The district administration is working towards providing families in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters with an “all choice zone” starting in the 2015-16 school year, allowing them to choose their zoned school or any other school in their area with transportation provided to the school of their choice. This means students will not be automatically enrolled in their zoned schools. Every family will be presented with their school options and asked to choose their school before their child is enrolled.

This change is being brought about as part of the district administration’s goal to have no priority schools in three years when the Tennessee Department of Education recalculates the state’s bottom 5% of schools based on performance. The concept of the all choice zone is to allow families to “vote with their feet.”

Creating an “all choice zone” for the Stratford and Maplewood clusters will not involve changing the boundaries for zoned schools, which are the schools assigned to every school-age child in Nashville / Davidson County based on the location of their primary residence. This means families will still have a guaranteed seat at their zoned school if that is the school they choose for their child. Remaining open seats at zoned schools will be made available to other students in the cluster using the Optional Schools Application.

In addition, the plan does not involve changing the boundaries of the Geographic Priority Zone (GPZ) for Lockeland Elementary, which is a magnet school. Magnet schools with a GPZ like Lockeland give families living within a certain proximity to the school first choice before seats are made available to families outside of the GPZ through the selection process. By keeping the current Lockeland GPZ intact, families already in the GPZ will remain there and will not be competing with a larger pool of potential applicants for their child’s seat due to the creation of an “all choice zone.”

The district administration recognizes that opening enrollment and offering transportation to any school in these two clusters will create unprecedented demand for existing high-quality schools, some of which already have long waiting lists. Therefore, for this concept to be meaningful and work, more high-quality choices must be made available to families. This is why the “all choice zone” is just one part of a larger plan being developed to address the list of priority schools and improve school choice in East Nashville. The ongoing planning process will involve extensive community input and aims to address the unique issues of each low-performing school, as well as the creation of more high-quality schools in East Nashville through converting or repurposing existing schools.

Your Questions:

If you are keeping the boundaries for zoned schools and the magnet school GPZs the same, how is an “all choice zone” different than the system that exists now?

There are three significant differences between the “all choice zone” proposed for East Nashville and the way school choice is handled currently in the district:

  1. Transportation:
    The “all choice zone” will make school choice meaningful for families who are otherwise limited by transportation options by making school bus transportation available to any school in the area. This will require an innovative approach to school bus operations in East Nashville, which is already being explored with the help of a transportation consultant.
  2. No automatic enrollment in zoned schools:
    Each school-age child living in Metro Nashville / Davidson County is assigned to a zoned school based on their primary residence and grade level. This is the school where a student is automatically enrolled when their parent registers them for school.

    Under the “all choice zone,” students will still have a guaranteed seat at their zoned school if that is the school of their choice. But they won’t be enrolled in any school until their family meets with a family outreach specialist who will explain their options and assist them in making the best choice to meet their student’s needs.

    A similar plan was successfully carried out during implementation of the 2009 student reassignment plan. Every family in the Pearl-Cohn cluster had a conversation with a district representative and made an active school choice for that school year.

  3. All schools become “optional schools”:
    An optional school (sometimes referred to as a “choice school”) is any school with an open enrollment process, meaning families can apply to send their child to that school regardless of where they live. Magnet schools and charter schools are optional schools, as well as zoned schools with available seats.

    Out of the 27 schools in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters, 25 are currently optional schools. Under the “all choice zone,” all 27 schools will have open enrollment. Like now, students will have a guaranteed seat at their zoned school, if that is the school their family chooses. Also, students within a magnet school GPZ will still have first priority to attend that school. Remaining open seats will be made available to other students in the cluster using the existing selection process.

Is it realistic and affordable to provide school bus transportation to any school in the cluster that a family chooses? If so, why isn’t this being done all over Davidson County?

The Stratford and Maplewood clusters cover smaller geographic areas and are more densely populated than the other school clusters in Davidson County, making them the ideal area to pilot an “all choice zone.” It will require an innovative approach to school bus operations, which may include solutions such as having students from multiple schools ride the same bus.

While there is still much work to be done to determine the exact costs and implementation strategy, preliminary study by the district’s operations division indicates that it is feasible. A transportation consultant specializing in this type of work has been engaged to help develop the transportation plan for the “all choice zone.”

East Nashvillians want a sense of community within their neighborhoods, which for parents, includes having kids who attend school together and preferably a school nearby. Won’t this plan damage that sense of community by having kids on the same street attend multiple schools all over East Nashville?

If the larger effort for priority schools works as intended (and note that the “all choice zone” is just one component of the larger effort to address priority schools and provide more high quality choice in East Nashville), the zoned schools in East Nashville neighborhoods will be strengthened, making them a more viable choice for families. Currently, 40% of students in East Nashville are in optional schools, versus 25% district-wide. The district administration’s goal is to make all zoned schools high-quality schools so they are the first choice for most families.

If schools eventually close as a result of this plan, won’t it damage neighborhoods to have school buildings sitting vacant?

If any schools are closed, the district administration’s priority will be to repurpose the building for another use that will further provide high-quality school choices in East Nashville. School buildings could be made available for lease to a charter school operator or reopened by the district, such as the Ross Pre-K Center which was formerly Ross Elementary.

Priority Schools Task Force Update – Friday, September 26, 2014

It has been a week of intense public conversation and community input. Dr. Register met with parent groups at Inglewood, Dan Mills, Kirkpatrick and Lockeland, in addition to smaller group meetings with parents and community members from across East Nashville. He also heard from the faculties at Inglewood and Kirkpatrick, and took a tour of Kirkpatrick classrooms with principal Mildred Nelson.

The community conversation is having a noticeable impact on the design process for how to turn around low performing Metro schools. At today’s taskforce meeting, Dr. Register and others opened with summaries and reflections on the input they heard this week. That started a conversation about the work the taskforce has done do far and how it can be adjusted to reflect the community’s voice.

For starters, the taskforce will now include two new committees to address priority school needs:

  • School Climate, Culture and Community Engagement
    Led by Tony Majors, chief support services officer

    • This group will look at school needs in terms of social and emotional learning, community services and involvement, discipline, attendance, recruiting and more. This area of need has always been a part of the conversation, but after the input we heard at school visits and community meetings this week, it is getting a committee of its own. This committee is expected to help schools develop plans for wrap-around services to meet student needs outside of academics.
  • Instruction and Rigorous, Engaging Curriculum
    Led by Dr. Kelly Henderson, executive director of instruction

    • This group will look closely at the curriculum offered in each priority school to find areas of need and ways to better engage students in learning. A great deal of work has been done at many schools – including the middle preps and Academies of Nashville schools – to bring more projects and hands-on experiences into the classroom. This committee will ensure each priority school is using the very best and most rigorous curriculum, with a strong eye toward instructional practices that keep students engaged.

The taskforce also heard reports from the Teaching Quality and High Quality Leadership committees.

Teaching Quality
This committee has been working hard to develop concrete proposals to:

  • Recruit great teachers
    As mentioned at the Kirkpatrick parent meeting, there is a proposal well in development to recruit 100 of the best teachers in the country to Nashville. This plan would include some cash incentives and career opportunities. There will also be a broader effort to recruit teachers on a national scale.
  • Develop existing teachers
    Rather than only use test scores and evaluations, though both are important indicators of teacher effectiveness, a team is coming together for in-person assessments of teaching and quality instruction in priority schools. This team will perform a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) followed by a series of observations called “instructional rounds.” These observations will give a fuller picture of teacher quality beyond what is found on a spreadsheet. They also bring teachers into a deep, teacher-led discussion of how to improve instruction and eliminate barriers.
  • Retain great teachers in high-need schools
    The team is also developing a plan to retain high performing teachers in the schools that need them most. Thursday at Kirkpatrick, everyone was touched by the burst of applause and appreciation given to Ms. Ward when two parents mentioned her as a transformative force for their children. We need to find a way to make sure the Ms. Wards of the world stay at their current schools. 

High Quality Leadership
The work of this committee closely mirrors that of the Teaching Quality committee, in that its members are working to determine the needs of existing principals and recruit other great leaders to Nashville.

  • Determine and provide supports for existing principals
    Each priority school principal submitted a proposal for school turn-around, including any additional needs for the school. Some of those plans are good and some are lacking. The committee has reviewed each one and helped shape a list of immediate needs to be filled. Some of these have already been filled and others are in progress.
  • Recruit and hire great leaders to Nashville
    To recruit great leaders, we first have to determine what a great leader looks like in Metro Schools. Our needs will be different than those of another urban district, so the committee identified the qualities we need in a turn-around principal. The next step is to develop a recruiting and marketing plan for a nationwide search of the very best turn-around principals. Where should we be looking and how can we find them? That is what we hope to determine. Incentives will also be offered. The hiring process would follow the same “New Leaders” process used to hire principals last summer and assess candidates against the turn-around qualities we seek.

The Student Assignment committee met to continue discussions about East Nashville choice and what that could look like. This committee is still a long way away from any concrete proposals because the community input process has just begun. But the ideas discussed today are the same ones brought up at many community meetings over the last two weeks, mostly centered around stable K-12 pathways like STEM and Paideia and how to provide transportation to every student who makes a choice.

Taskforce meetings will continue next week, as will parent and community meetings. The community meetings are:

  • Tuesday, September 30 – Jere Baxter Middle
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 1 – Napier Elementary School
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
    Napier will serve dinner to its families at 5:00 p.m.

Lastly, we will soon announce the formation of an advisory committee that will meet regularly and offer substantive input as the plan for low performing schools and East Nashville choice comes together. The committee will include teachers, parents and community members from schools, neighborhoods and other stakeholder groups. Look for those details in the coming days.

Task Force Members

Dr. Jesse Register, Director of Schools
Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer
Dr. Alan Coverstone, Executive Officer for Innovation
Dr. Vanessa Garcia, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools
Dr. Antoinette Williams, Executive Officer for Middle Schools
Dr. Michelle Wilcox, Executive Officer for High Schools
Dr. Dottie Critchlow, Executive Officer for Instructional Support
Kevin Stacy, Director of English Learners
Dr. Kelly Henderson, Executive Director of Instruction
Tony Majors, Chief Support Services Officer
Alvin Jones, Executive Director of Student Services
Gini Pupo-Walker, Director of Family and Community Partnerships
Dr. Paul Changas, Executive Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation
Susan Thompson, Chief Human Capital Officer
Katie Cour, Executive Director of Talent Strategy
Shannon Black, Director of Talent Management
Shirene Douglas, Director of Talent Acquisition
Craig Ott, Executive Director of Human Capital Operations
Clarissa Zellars, Director of School Improvement Strategies
Chris Weber, Director of Student Assignment
Ryan Latimer, Coordinator fo Enrollment Forecasting in Student Assignment
Representatives from Transportation, on behalf of Taffy Marsh
Hank Clay, Government Relations
Olivia Brown, Director of Communications
Joe Bass, Communications Specialist

An Open Letter to Nashville Families from Dr. Jesse Register

To the families of Nashville,

This week we dropped a big piece of news that left more questions than answers. That’s breeding anxiety among many, so we write today to better explain our ideas and let you know what’s happening over the next several weeks.

Pardon the length of this letter, but there is a lot to talk about. First, let’s address East Nashville, then we can get to your biggest questions and concerns.

There is a lot of good happening in East Nashville, but also a lot of schools that need to do better. We have excellent neighborhood schools at Dan Mills and Lockeland. We have an excellent magnet school at East. We have excellent charter schools at KIPP and others. We are developing a strong K-12 pathway to Stratford STEM.

How can we make every school in East Nashville more like these excellent schools, so that no one attends a struggling school and everyone gets to choose among great school options? That’s what we hope to find.

What are the facts so far?
We are 100% committed to getting parent and community input at the beginning of this process, which is right now. That’s why we announced our intentions this week and why we are holding the first of many community meetings next week.

The plan is still in such early stages of development that all we can share right now are broad ideas and a few specifics. As we speak to families, teachers, principals and community members, more details can be formed and decisions made.

Here are the facts so far:

  • This is a plan to address and turn around all low performing schools in Nashville. In three years, we will have no schools on the state’s priority list. To do this, we are focusing on the bottom 25% district-wide.
  • In East Nashville, we want to give all families high-quality choices. Under this plan, all families in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters would get to choose their school, and no one would be assigned to a school by default.
  • Successful schools must be preserved. There are successful schools in East Nashville – several, in fact. We will not do anything to undermine or destroy these schools.
  • If your school is high performing, it will not close or convert.
  • If your school is high performing and you like it, you can stay there.

Will you eliminate the GPZ at Lockeland Elementary?
There are no plans to change the GPZ at Lockeland. Instead, we’ll look for ways to expand its reach. It’s so successful that we want to use it as a model.

Does that mean adding or opening up seats at Lockeland? Maybe. Does it mean changing another elementary school to be more like Lockeland and attract the growing Lockeland Springs population there? Maybe. We will know for certain very soon.

Choice does not mean the elimination of neighborhood schools like Lockeland. Choice schools can still be neighborhood schools. Lockeland is the prime example of this.

What does this plan mean for priority schools right now?
In the immediate future – meaning now and through the end of this school year – there will be some leadership and staff changes. We will also start building and implementing individualized plans of action for each priority school. This means there will be a broad strategy to turn that school around. Each plan will be different, based on the very specific needs of that school and its students.

Within the next few months, we expect to announce any possible closings or transitions. Those will take effect at the end of this school year. Before the school year is over, we will work closely with affected families on the choices available to them.

What does this plan mean for the future of East Nashville?
East Nashville needs more schools like Lockeland, Dan Mills, East Nashville Magnet and KIPP. All four of those are good schools and present a wide array of options for everyone. Families need security as their children transition to middle and high school. They need to be sure they will get into the schools they planned for. There must be quality choices available for the growing number of families and young children in East Nashville.

So this plan is about greater choice, but it’s also about sticking with the choice for as long as you like to – without the uncertainty of a lottery.

Using those good schools as starting points, let’s build pathways that children can follow – if they so choose – from kindergarten to graduation without having to go through the application and selection process.

What does that look like in practical terms?
Details are still being developed, but here are just a few of ideas being considered:

  • Turn a low performing elementary school into a strong Paideia school that feeds directly into East.
  • Strengthen the pipeline into Litton Middle and Stratford High by pairing more elementary schools with Dan Mills. These schools will get strong turnaround attention based on the specific needs of the families within that school.
  • Consider a K-12 pipeline for KIPP while building more seats at other successful charter schools so families who want to choose a successful charter school can do so at any grade.

Giving parents this certainty will help them make decisions early, which attracts more families to these schools. There are already a lot of choices in East Nashville. Let’s make them all quality choices and give families the security to stick with them.

What about closings and conversions?
We expect an announcement in the near future about which schools could be closed or converted. Those discussions are still underway, but we expect it to be very few.

We won’t try to hide it: there are some really tough decisions ahead. It’s never easy to close a school or transition it to a charter operator. Both are disruptive to families and logistically very difficult.

But the simple fact is that right now there are many more seats in East Nashville than there are students. Closing or consolidating schools gives us tighter focus on fixing what’s not working.

Why weren’t parents consulted until now?
We are still very early in this process, so parents are getting in early. Final decisions will not be made until we’ve visited schools, spoken to teachers and families, and gathered community input.

A priority schools task force has been meeting for two weeks to examine the facts, pull ideas together and start building a first draft of the overall plan.

Who is on this taskforce? What goes on at these meetings? Why isn’t the public invited to participate?
The task force is made up of 20 or so of the top administrators in the district representing several areas of expertise. They have met multiple times over the last couple of weeks armed with stacks of data. Every meeting includes a deep dive into individual student and teacher data, identifying issues and coming up with new ideas on how to solve them.

The task force is working in three main areas:

  • Great School Leadership
  • Excellent Teachers
  • System Supports

There are also people working with in all three areas to gather information and plan for communications and community engagement.

What will happen next?
Earlier this week, I met with all principals in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters to talk about the plan and the challenges they face. I will continue to meet with them throughout this process.

Starting next week, I will begin visits to every priority school and every school in East Nashville. I will spend most of my afternoon at each school, doing three things:

  • During the school day, I will tour and observe classrooms.
  • After dismissal, I will meet with the faculty to listen to them and talk about ideas for improvement.
  • In the evening, I will meet with families from that school to listen to them, answer questions and give updates on planning.

The schedule is in development, but these meetings are expected to begin next Thursday, Sept. 18. There will also be larger community meetings and several one-on-one meetings with community members to gather input and answer questions.

Every Friday, we will publish an update on the planning process and address any big questions or concerns we heard during the week.

This is going to be a long process of development and implementation. Some changes will take place immediately, while others will take longer.

We have a lot of hard work to do, but we look forward to having great parent partners to help us along the way.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.

DOWNLOAD this letter as a PDF

Dr. Register calls for civility, formal cooperation in the education community

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register delivered these remarks to the Metro Council Education Committee on Thursday, July 10, 2014:

Chairman Glover, members of the Council Education Committee, and other Council members, after Steve talked to me about this session, I asked for a moment at the start of the meeting to say a few words to you about our school system in general and specifically about today’s briefing on Public Charter Schools. Your decision to meet as the Education Committee of the Metro Council on this important topic is both farsighted and commendable. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

I know I am taking advantage of my long-standing relationship with Chairman Glover with this request to address you, but without his involvement six years ago, I might not be standing here today as your superintendent, as Steve was the first person from Nashville to ask me to apply for this job. I appreciate this opportunity to say a few words, not as your director of schools necessarily, but as an educator, someone who cares deeply about public education and particularly about our school system and our children.

First I want to commend the Council and Mayor Dean for the significant investments in funding public education in Nashville you have made during my tenure here. We could not do what we do without your help and support. Thank you.

Let me start this off by saying what I hope all of you already know—we have a really good school system in this city with a strong foundation, great leaders and committed wonderful teachers. We have pockets of notable excellence and, of course, we still have a few areas of weakness. We are absolutely on the right path, but that path is not always easy.

As my official time as the leader of this community’s education system begins to wind down, and as I consider my experience as a lifelong educator and longtime superintendent, I want to tell you that your school system has the potential to be great…not just good or adequate, or OK, but truly great. The possibilities are endless, our goals are absolutely attainable, and the future is bright.

As all of you know, we have over the last few years experienced transformational change in the way we approach the education of our children in this community and across the nation. These changes have greatly increased the amount and the intensity of education-related discourse in our neighborhoods and across the city, as well as in the media.

The on-going, and frankly sometimes passionate, discussion about this important topic is good. Passion around the education of our children should be encouraged and celebrated. But over the last year or so there has been a steady and ever increasing tendency toward miscommunication and gamesmanship in our dialog and a push for polarization in our ongoing discussions about the future of public education in this city. These actions have created distrust and hard feelings where understanding and common purpose once ruled the day.

In the very near past when we disagreed, we did so respectfully. Not so today. It has at times become mean and personal. We have lost civility in our dialogue on education reform in general and, regrettably, particularly as it concerns our public charter schools. This loss of civility has caused good people and quality institutions that have the same basic goals—the quality education of future generations of Nashvillians–to take sides and develop an unhealthy “us” versus “them” mentality.

I think that most in the room will agree with me….enough is enough! This is not some sort of game where it’s OK to judge “winning or losing” by which press release or pithy statement gets printed in the newspaper or gets highlighted on the nightly news, or gets the most play on social media. This is not about a campaign to discredit one person or another because they may disagree with you; it should be about, and only be about, what’s best for our school system and developing and maintaining great schools for our children.

When we take a step back and really think about it, the biggest losers in this kind of scorched earth campaign-style approach to our discussion about schools of choice are our children. I believe this type of behavior needs to stop and it needs to stop now. If you agree with me, I ask for your help.

I am asking all of you tonight, individually as important opinion leaders in our community, and as members of the Council, to join me in finding the most effective way to immediately transition our dialog to a place where this community, and our school system, can find stability and reinstate a collaborative and transparent environment where innovation and true partnership can flourish. A place where all ideas are discussed respectfully. A place where the best ideas rise to the top and are implemented. And a place where bad or outdated ideas are simply left behind.

I plan to ask my partners over the coming days and weeks – Mayor Dean, Vice Mayor Neighbors and this Council, our state legislative delegation led by Speaker Harwell, Governor Haslam’s administration, community partners like the Public Education Foundation, Nashville’s Agenda, the Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, The United Way, the Charter community, and of course, our School Board, to join this effort.

It’s my desire that over the next few weeks and months we can address and eliminate the hard feelings that have developed and reinstate a constructive climate of trust and true collaboration. Why do I think this is so vitally important? Because our future, I believe, depends on it.

The next mayor of this city and the next superintendent of your school system will have an exciting opportunity presented to them as they transition into their new roles. These opportunities include the opportunity to take public education in Nashville to new heights of excellence. But I respectfully submit to you that if we aren’t thinking about how we reset the conversation on public education in this city, right now—tonight, starting right here in his chamber, this very instant–the new mayor and the new superintendent are going to find themselves in a precarious place and will be less able to take our system to the next level. This meeting today is the perfect context for this topic.

It is absolutely critical that the District embrace the important role that our education colleagues in the charter school sector play in the future of education in Nashville. I know that this District’s charters are by and large very successful. It is evident that we are seeing outstanding educational gains from public charter schools as well as from other schools of choice and many of our zoned schools.

While I am so very proud of all of these schools, I acknowledge there is a real and pressing need to literally reset the conversation about charters and other schools of choice. Specifically, I want to immediately jump start the process of determining best practices associated with what makes charters and other high performing schools work for our parents and children, and to facilitate the implementation of some of those ideas across our system. I hope the charter community will agree to assist me with this important work.

To that end, and as a first step, I am asking the Charter Center to work with me to convene a monthly meeting with charter school leaders, Dr. Coverstone, and other members of my senior staff, and any willing members of the Board of Education. There is so much common ground that exists among these individuals and institutions and we simply need to work harder to find and exploit this for the benefit of our children. We should be about this work starting tomorrow morning.

In the end, the question that we seem to have missed in the ongoing and overheated debate about charter schools is really very simple: How we can utilize our district assets—all district assets–especially our high performing schools that are built around some level of choice and excellence to ensure that our children, ALL OF OUR CHILDREN, regardless of where they reside, or where they go to school, can achieve to their highest potential.

To that end, I will be reaching out to my partners in the Nashville educational community (generally as we did with our recent attrition study) to have them assist the District in conducting in-depth research that will assist us in analyzing our financial practices to make sure that we are giving adequate weight to educational quality, results, and “return on our investment” in our District funding models. This research, when completed, will advance and build upon the limited initial work of the fiscal impact study that is currently underway, such that when both studies are complete we, and our constituents, partners, and funders, will have a more robust and complete, comprehensive and unbiased understanding of what it takes to lead our schools to the results we desire and that our children richly deserve.

In conclusion, I want to reset the conversation about the future of public education in Nashville. We must learn and build on our best practices from all high-performing schools to improve practices in every school. Most importantly, I want to renew a sincere spirit of civility, cooperation, and optimism when we agree, and lead a respectful, meaningful and constructive dialogue when we don’t. Over the next year, I am committed to doing everything I can, professionally and personally, to position Metro Schools to move toward being a world-class school system for this community. On this you have my word. Thank you Mr. Chairman for indulging me this courtesy, and thank you all for all you do every single day for this great city.

Metro principals unite to thank Dr. Jesse Register for his strong leadership

This letter was presented to the Metropolitan Board of Public Education on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Download the full letter to see the 200 signatures.

Dear Nashvillians,

We, the principals and instructional leaders of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, offer this letter of support for the leadership and vision of Dr. Jesse Register, Director of Schools. During his tenure, time and again, he has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all students are provided with the “foundation of knowledge, skills, and character necessary to excel in higher education, work, and life.” His willingness to make the tough – and sometimes unpopular – decisions, his intentional focus on instructional efficacy and excellence, and his pledge to “look closely at our own practices…so we can find ways to improve” mean that MNPS students, families, employees, and community members have a vocal educational advocate in Dr. Register. We are his direct reports, his colleagues, his collaborators, and his supporters who are duty-bound with him to educate this city’s and this nation’s future citizenry.


Principals at Board meeting

Principals line up to speak to the Board of Education in support of Dr. Jesse Register and his accomplishments. – July 8, 2014


At present, MNPS is placed in this state’s second highest accountability category, a far cry from the district that was in state takeover upon Dr. Register’s arrival. He collaborated with district and community leaders, along with parents and advocates, to design a more equitable school system that emphasizes the interconnectedness of teacher effectiveness, Central-Office support, positive teacher-student interactions, accountability at all levels, and school-based autonomy in guaranteeing students academic achievement and social/emotional development. Dr. Register relied upon those with institutional history to help him make informed decisions about how best to respect and preserve the district’s traditions while moving forward with needed transformative change. Some of the district’s accomplishment’s under Dr. Register’s leadership include:

  • being one of the first school systems in the nation to be awarded Race to the Top federal funds;
  • achieving national recognition for its blended learning practices and district-wide technology-in-classroom implementation;
  • expanding a high-quality early childhood program so that more children have PreK experiences;
  • continuing to develop the Academies of Nashville as students’ needs evolve;
  • introducing the Middle Preps of Nashville as the starting point to career and/or college readiness;
  • providing no-cost, healthy meals for all students, regardless of family socio-economics; and
  • partnering with other urban districts to investigate the correlation between discipline disparity and student achievement and performance.

To date, there have been over 1,000 visitors to our district, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to witness our teachers’ hard work and dedication under Dr. Register’s leadership. The district continues to gain and grow.

Dr. Register has challenged principals and instructional leaders to lead, and we have done just that. He has given us more autonomy through a redesigned leadership paradigm that distributes leadership and decision-making among a greater number of people. He has stream-lined Central-Office operations so that resources and support are in our schools where the needs are greatest. He has trusted us to make decisions that are best for our schools, our students, and our teachers. In short, Dr. Register has created a professional teaching, learning, and leading environment in which all members are valued for their individual contributions to the district’s vision and mission. He has empowered us, which, in turn, allows us to empower those we lead.

We are the principals and instructional leaders of MNPS, leading approximately 83,000 students and 5,100 teachers in the nation’s 42nd largest school district. Our students and teachers represent the African and Asian diasporas, the cities and villages or Central and South America, and the Music City. We have a diversity of languages and experiences that enrich our already dynamic district. We are Antioch, Cane Ridge, Glencliff, Hillsboro, Hillwood, Hunters Lane, McGavock, Maplewood, Overton, Pearl-Cohn, Stratford, and Whites Creek. And we proudly support Dr. Jesse Register as he continues to work for the students, families, employees and community members of Greater Nashville.

Sincerely,

The MNPS Principals and Instructional Leaders

On the Job: Metro teachers’ attendance rate higher than “national average”

95.8% attendance rate in 2012-13 flies in the face of recent study

Did you see this report? It comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The study claims more than two-thirds of Nashville teachers are “frequently absent,” meaning they miss anywhere from 11-17 days in the classroom each year.

This study makes several broad assumptions and big leaps. Chief among them is the definition of “absence.” In explaining its methodology, the authors say explicitly, “Professional development and other job-related absences that would require students to be taught by a substitute were included.”

We do not consider teachers taking professional development days to be absent, nor do we consider that a detriment to the students. When teachers are out of the classroom for full days of professional development, they are learning new skills and methods to improve instruction. That definitely benefits their students.

Using the study’s methodology, the authors come up with a teacher attendance rate of 92.38% for 2012-13. When you look purely at sick days and disability days, as we do, that rate is actually 95.8% – well above the 94% national average the authors calculate. Preliminary numbers for teacher attendance in 2013-14 look to hit 96.2% – an even further improvement.

Further, the study assumes that days spent with a substitute teacher harm students academically. We reject this assumption. As a district, we have strengthened our substitute teacher pool by requiring each candidate to complete a training program and pass a test. Once approved, each substitute teacher enters the classroom with experience in instruction, classroom management and working with students. The old days from years ago of substitute teachers effectively “babysitting” students are over. Substitute teachers in Metro Schools give instruction.

From the article linked at the top:

“‘While these big-city school districts are struggling to improve student achievement, they may be overlooking one of the most basic aspects of teacher effectiveness: every teacher being regularly on the job, teaching kids,’ said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington think tank that advocates for reform in recruiting, retaining and compensating teachers. It receives its money from private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

We take teacher attendance very seriously and are making every effort to improve it. The numbers bear that out. We also believe our teachers are hard working and dedicated to their students. This study takes a much broader definition of “absence” than is reasonable, and its conclusions are suspect.

For the curious, here’s what teachers are allowed per year:

  • 10 sick days
  • 5 professional development days
  • 2 personal days