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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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