Litton Middle School’s new renovations and new attitude serve its East Nashville neighborhood

Apply to Litton Middle School

UPDATE: The official dedication of the new Isaac Litton Middle school brought out Rep. Jim Cooper, Mayor Karl Dean, Councilman Anthony Davis, and more! See a slideshow of photos from the ribbon cutting below.


Original post:
When I arrived at the newly renovated Isaac Litton Middle School, principal Tracy Bruno was fleeing the spray of a lawn sprinkler deployed to help the parched and newly planted landscaping. The grass may not have been prepared for the drought, but the school is prepared for more students and a higher profile in its East Nashville neighborhood.

“We are the epitome of a neighborhood school, right here in the middle of all these houses,” Bruno told me. And it’s true. Litton sits nestled between small, residential streets like Winding Way and Littonwood Drive right off Gallatin Pike.

The renovations that have taken place over the last year and a half have transformed the school into a building that looks practically new – and that’s because a lot of it is. The main office has been expanded. The library has a massive bank of new windows opening to the front lawn. The cafeteria is brand new and full of natural light. And the gym – once completely disconnected from the main building – has now been built out with new entrances, a new concession stand, and a host of new classrooms underneath it for fifth grade and related arts classes.

The rest of the building has been so spruced up, refinished, and painted that there is no disconnect between old and new. It all feels new to 2012. Just in time, too, because Bruno and his faculty have made it their mission to make Litton the neighborhood middle school in East Nashville.

“You can’t just sit around in your office and wait for kids to come to your school. You have to go out there and market your school and sell it, tell people the great things that are going on at your school because nobody’s going to do it for you.”

One of those great things happening at Litton is a strong focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. With new computers and projectors in every classroom, multiple iPad and netbook carts, and thousands of dollars in new STEM technology at the ready, Litton will prepare students to head right into Stratford STEM Magnet High School – another East Nashville neighborhood institution.

And Bruno’s mission to market his school isn’t self-serving. He sees in Litton the opportunity to bolster the sense of community that draws many people to East Nashville in the first place. He and his teachers have been working hard for the last year to make that happen, organizing events at feeder schools like Dan Mills Elementary and even going door-to-door to introduce themselves and build support for their school.

Fifth grade teacher Ashley Croft worked with the Martha O’Bryan Center on the Promise Neighborhood survey and used the opportunity to start building one-on-one relationships with the community.

“The whole idea was for parents and the community members to know that the teachers and the staff here care about the community,” Croft said. “And so showing up at their door for this survey – not even directly representing the school, but just for building community – I think it meant a lot to some parents.”

Bruno sees Litton’s zoned population, neighborhood placement, and STEM focus as advantages in an area filled with school options. Students in Litton’s neighborhood can choose among magnets, charters, and private schools. That’s a lot of competition in such a tight radius. But he sees plenty of reasons for parents to choose Litton.

“They live around the school. There’s familiarity. You have kids down the street that go to the same school your kids do. It’s just more of a community feel.” Indeed, listening to Bruno talk about what a neighborhood school can offer, he sounds a bit like a principal from a different era, working next to a doctor who makes house calls and a butter and egg delivery truck.

“I have no problem making a visit to a child’s house. I’ve had parents before who would call and say ‘Hey, my child missed the bus. I can’t get them there’ and I’ll go pick them up. It’s not a big thing, but the parents appreciate it. It could be a child who just doesn’t want to go to school. I will go to your house and talk to your child and tell them they need to go to school because sometimes parents need that help.”

And he expects a bit of reciprocity from parents; his open door policy means he is readily available to speak with parents, hear their concerns, and take their suggestions. “It helps the neighborhood take more ownership in the school and feel like they have a bigger part in the school and share as a stakeholder in the school.”

If Litton is the “epitome of a neighborhood school,” as Bruno boasts, then Bruno himself is the epitome of a great neighborhood principal, just like ones found all over Nashville in Metro’s other neighborhood schools. Principals from Joelton Elementary to Oliver Middle, Hermitage Elementary to Hillwood High build their schools the same way: to serve as resources and points of pride for their communities. Neighbors come to Overton football games donned head to toe in red and black. Long lines of early arriving parents gather outside Lakeview Elementary to chat and share stories from the school and the neighborhood.

That’s because our neighborhood schools are the neighborhoods they serve. Students live down the street, families play on the playgrounds, and school faculty and staff strive to better their communities through education.

Tracy Bruno can already see the change happening. “We have volunteers who were asking for things to do. That never happened three years previous. We had people at the doors asking, ‘What can I do to help Isaac Litton Middle School?’ That is a huge step in the right direction.”

With the new renovations, Litton has room to grow. And Bruno plans to fill it up.

“I want to see every classroom in this building filled with neighborhood kids. And I believe we can get there. There are enough students in East Nashville, in our cluster, in our zone, to fill this school up.”
His goal is to build a future for Litton where the young families now populating East Nashville feel great about sending their children there.

“I had a teacher in here last Monday who said ‘I will do whatever it takes to make my kids successful this year.’ When you have that kind of enthusiasm, the sky’s the limit.”

Statement from Cheryl Mayes on her meeting with Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Board of Education Chairwoman Cheryl Mayes met today with Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman. After the meeting she made this statement:

“We appreciate Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s willingness to sit down in a spirit of concern for Nashville’s students. It was a good meeting based on our mutual commitment to improving student outcomes. We have no change in status at this time. We will continue to talk with the State.”

Board Chair Cheryl Mayes writes to Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman

Sent Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012:

Dear Commissioner Huffman,

The Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education is in receipt of your notice to withhold a portion of our school system’s next scheduled Basic Education Program (BEP) payment. As the newly elected board chair, I am disappointed that you are taking this punitive step toward our system of 81,000 students. While I understand your position, I respectfully disagree and request a meeting with you to revisit this matter and avert this action.

Our local School Board had legitimate concerns about the diversity plan, or lack thereof, put forward by Great Hearts. Allow me to share with you some information about our community and its history. We are an urban school system that only emerged from federal court-ordered desegregation in 1998. As recently as this past summer, our rezoning plan was the subject of a federal lawsuit. Nashville has eight percent of the total public school students in Tennessee, but 29 percent of the English language learners in our state and 75% of our students are FARM eligible.

For us, “diversity” is not a political term. Diversity is a real concern in our community, and we take seriously our obligation to promote it. While you assert the local School Board broke the law, we were acting as responsible, duly-elected and duly-sworn public officials upholding the U.S. Constitution and its Equal Protection Clause.

I know Metro Schools must do a better job of articulating diversity guidelines for new charter schools. We are in the process of developing policies that will allow us to clearly communicate our priorities going forward. Additionally, we must continue working to promote diversity within our own schools of choice, and are striving toward that goal, as well. But that does not relieve us of the responsibility, in the meantime, to press new charter operators on these questions.

We understand the State Department of Education is a partner in our efforts, and we embrace the privilege of helping to lead Tennessee’s bold reform strategies. While the matter at hand today is Great Hearts, there no doubt will be another school or issue in the future that has the potential to put us at odds. I would like very much for us to think through ways we can work together. I look forward to meeting with you at the earliest possible opportunity.

Sincerely,

Cheryl D. Mayes, Chairwoman

 

Cheryl Mayes Letter to Kevin Huffman

Statement on Tennessee Department of Education’s Decision to Cut Funding to Metro Nashville Public Schools

Funding supports district’s 81,000 children

This morning, the district first heard from the State Department of Education about its decision to cut the Metro Schools Basic Education Program allocation by almost $3.4 million in October. We are very disappointed.

BEP is a funding formula and not a spending plan, so there are no funds earmarked for “administrative costs.”  The BEP formula for non-classroom expenses includes utilities, student transportation, maintenance and other things that directly affect our 81,000 students and 5,000 classrooms. None of these items are in any way linked to charter school approval processes.

We do not yet have a plan on how we will respond to this disruptive mid-year cut. Our priority will always be to give the best education to our students with the resources we have. Budget amendments require action by the Metro Nashville Board of Education.

Metro Nashville has earned national recognition for its rigorous process to review charter school applications and its process is considered a national model. The Board of Education had genuine concerns about the Great Hearts application and how the district manages diversity. The Board approved four other applications this cycle and the number of charter schools in the district has increased from four in 2009, when the process was adopted, to 14 this year.  Six more are approved to open by 2013, for a total of 20.

We believe children will benefit when the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, and the local Board of Education and school district work together. In Metro Nashville, we are committed to improving student achievement and to collaborating with the State, quality charter school operators and the people of Nashville for our children.