Five Questions for the New School Meals Chief

During a phone call just after being hired, Spencer Taylor had to cut off his new boss.

“I’m sorry to cut this short, but I have to go. Our schools are serving tilapia today, and I don’t want it to be overcooked.”

This isn’t your average school lunch chief.

The newly named Director of Nutrition Services was still working at Birmingham City Schools at the time, and had a job to do: serve healthy fish to school kids – and make it taste good.

Now that he’s in Nashville, Taylor is ready to feed tens of thousands of students at more than 140 schools. He certainly has the credentials. He is a registered and licensed dietician who has worked everywhere from restaurants to medical facilities to the U.S. Army Reserves.

“I’m an active person with a strong interest in health and wellness,” he says. “I want to serve our students tasty meals with high nutritional value.”

So what does he like? What kind of food person is he? Here are five facts about Spencer Taylor:

  1. Favorite Foods: Crisp apples, peanut butter, and dark chocolate
  2. Favorite Food to Cook: Whole wheat pancakes for my children
  3. Favorite TV Chef/Food Show: Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri
  4. Foods You Want to See on Metro Schools Menus: Fresh green salads daily and more seafood
  5. Hardest Part of Cooking 12 Million Meals a Year: Consistency from school to school, varied customer tastes, and finding the best recipes

Statement on BEP Funds Withheld October 15, 2012

We were disappointed to learn around noon today that the Tennessee Department of Education has refused to reconsider its decision to withhold nearly $3.4 million in taxpayer funding designated for the education of more than 81,000 students in Metro Nashville Public Schools. The funding is 10 percent of the state’s annual “non-instructional” funding for Nashville’s children.

The elected representatives of the people in the state legislature developed the Basic Education Program funding plan to ensure schools are adequately funded. BEP is a funding program, not a spending plan, and these funds are used for a number of services that directly affect students and classrooms.

We are concerned about the effect of this reduction and how we will address this shortfall in the middle of the school year. We intend to be good stewards of the public money and to make thoughtful, deliberate decisions in an effort to minimize the penalty’s effect on the children in our schools.

The $3.4 million reduction is significant and raises concerns about how the amount was determined and whether it is consistent with other penalties assessed by the state. Tennessee law does not address penalties in this situation.

The district continues its work on behalf of Nashville’s children and families and, contrary to some media reports, there is no hiring freeze. The district has the means to meet its current financial obligations and the Board of Education will determine where to make the budget reductions by the end of the fiscal year.

A letter to parents: So you’re a Focus School. What does that really mean, anyway?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded Focus School grants to Amqui, Carter Lawrence, and Ruby Major Elementary Schools, as well as Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. These grants are worth anywhere from $100,000-300,000 and will be used to help close achievement gaps at these schools.

To learn more about these grants, visit the DOE website.


Dear Parents,

When the Tennessee Department of Education released the list of “Focus Schools” with a few MNPS schools on it, we heard from parents right away. There was some confusion and more than a little concern. Focus is a new label with a new definition, and it’s not immediately clear what it means. Some assumed it was a replacement for the old label of a High Priority or “Failing” school.

That’s not the case. The state defines Focus Schools like this:

“The 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

The achievement gap is a key concern of Tennessee’s new accountability system for schools and districts. MNPS wants to see all groups of students achieving at high levels, and we are making progress across the district.

Here’s what it can mean to be a Focus School:

  1. The school has high achieving students.
    The state’s own guidelines say, “Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year.” If your school saw big gains in all students – including those at the very top of the honor rolls – that’s a wonderful thing. But, it also means the gap between the top students and everyone else didn’t get any smaller. We need to increase all students’ achievement and close the achievement gap at the same time.
  2. The school is diverse.
    Our schools have many students with different backgrounds, different home lives, and different abilities, and they’re all held to the same standard. Some students have a great balance of support systems at home and at school to help. Some don’t. By giving schools this label, the state is asking that we “focus” part of our attention on these schools to increase achievement for all students of all abilities. That’s just what we’ll do.
  3. The school is eligible for additional financial help to close the gap.
    Again, from the state guidelines:

“Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.”

The school labels under the new system are much more accurate and provide a fuller picture of a school than the old No Child Left Behind labels. The new labels place the focus on increasing academic performance for our schools’ highest achievers as well as on those who need the most help, so everyone achieves more.

Sincerely,

Your Metro School