The Budget: Literacy

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Dramatic Literacy Gains
  • Investment: $1.29 million

We have set very ambitious goals for our district. Our strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, calls for 71% of all students to score proficient or advanced on state assessments by 2018. That’s going to take a lot of work and some pretty dramatic gains.

How do we make them? To meet ambitious goals, we need an ambitious plan. It has to address overall instruction so we’re improving in every classroom while also giving intensive support to schools with large percentages of struggling students.

To make the gains we need in reading and language arts, we’ve developed a full literacy plan with two parts, both designed to deliver big results:

  1. Highly targeted intervention programs for students reading below grade level.
  2. Expert partnerships for continuous improvement of everyday classroom instruction.

Intervention

The key to intervention is to see where individual students stand academically and meet them at that level. Teachers can focus on their strengths and their weaknesses to catch them up to grade level. That’s what personalized learning is all about.

To make this happen, we want to hire Reading Recovery teachers who are dedicated to helping kids catch up. They will work with small groups and individuals for intensive literacy instruction leading to mastery.

We also want to open reading clinics with one-on-one tutoring and online intervention programs. These can be spread around the city and even move from school to school as needed.

Improved Instruction

To make sure our everyday classroom literacy instruction is and remains top notch, we will train literacy coaches and school literacy teams who can work with all teachers on how to improve their instruction and student outcomes. Through a partnership with Lipscomb University, recently named one of the top four teacher prep programs in the country, these coaches will get year-long literacy training.

To oversee all of this, we have a Director of Literacy with a focused vision for reading instruction from prekindergarten to 12th grade. This is the kind of intensive support our students need and the level of attention they deserve.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Budget Priority: Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Budget Priority: Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Budget Priority: Technology and Training

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: Technology and training

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Technology to improve instruction and training teachers to use it
  • Investment: $1.3 million for technology and $1.3 million for training

In five years, Metro Schools can be the highest-performing urban district in the country. Our strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, lays out specific strategies to get there.

The key to the entire plan is personalized learning for every student. To do that, we must transform the way we teach and manage classrooms through technology. We are already heavily invested in that transformation thanks to the federal Race to the Top grant. By continuing our investment, we will achieve our goals.

The Metro Schools Learning Technology team is second to none in the United States. Dr. Kecia Ray, who leads the team, is the president of the International Society for Technology in Education and was recently named one of “20 to Watch in Education Technology” by the National School Boards Association.

Combined with the very best teaching, our learning technology plan will ensure our students get more instruction targeted to their specific needs and abilities.

Our learning technology plan has three key parts:

  1. Software to make classrooms more efficient
    Rather than making teachers use a half dozen or more different systems, we’ve brought together all of our computer-based instruction into a single program called SchoolNet.SchoolNet puts everything right at a teacher’s fingertips: lesson plans, standards, data, best practices and more. Further, it helps teachers report and analyze data so they can personalize instruction based on individual student needs.By making it easier to access and interpret all this information in one place, teachers save time and have a more complete picture of each student’s performance and needs.
  2. Software to personalize learning for teachers
    Personalization doesn’t stop at students. Teachers will get targeted professional development from a library of lessons called PD360. Just as the teacher analyzes a student’s performance and decides the best approach for instruction, the PD360 library can give targeted professional development aligned with each teacher’s individual needs.
  3. Online student instruction
    Mirroring many colleges and professional work environments, all Metro Schools graduates are expected to have taken at least one class online. The MNPS Virtual School offers a full slate of online courses for full- and part-time students. Teachers can also take professional development courses online. All of these online courses are delivered through software called Blackboard, which was originally funded through Race to the Top.

This technology is great and is vital to personalized learning, but what does that matter if teachers aren’t trained to use it?

Our All-Star Training program, already well underway, is the largest professional development program we’ve ever undertaken. Every single teacher in Metro Schools will finish it by July 1, 2014. It shows teachers how to make best use of the technology we provide, how to align their work with the Common Core State Standards and PARCC assessments, and how they can share their best practices and borrow great ideas from other teachers. Nearly 10 percent of our classroom teachers have already completed the training (as of early April).

When they complete the training, teachers receive a laptop. That way we give them to know-how and the tools to personalize learning for every student.

This training could soon be a national best practice. Public school districts from Memphis, San Diego and New York City, as well as private companies, have approached us about using our All-Star training.

To continue our successes and build more in the future, we must keep investing in the technology that will help get us there.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Budget Priority: Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Budget Priority: Teacher and Staff Pay Raises

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: A pay raise for all teachers and staff

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms. 

  • Budget Priority: Teacher and Staff Pay Raises and Other Compensation
  • Investment: $8 million

Under the 2014-15 budget request, all Metro teachers and staff would receive a two percent pay raise. Most years, the Governor calls for a statewide teacher pay raise that the state helps fund. His proposed budget does not include a statewide raise this year, but Metro Schools wants to recruit and retain the best.

By funding a teacher and staff raise locally, we reward the hard working educators who are helping Nashville students make real, measurable progress. We also keep pace with other districts and other states and stay competitive in teacher pay.

If we want a great teacher in every Metro classroom, we have to be able to attract teachers from all over the country and develop and retain them once they get here. More than half our early career teachers whose students make significant gains year after year tell us they do not plan to stay at Metro Schools for their entire careers.

There aren’t many teachers who teach for the money, but competitive pay is still crucial to effective teacher recruitment and retention.

A two percent raise for all 6,000 teachers would cost around $7.3 million, while the same raise for support staff is $2 million.

Other cost increases in compensation aren’t a choice. They are required. Those include increases in pension and retiree insurance. But thanks to savings from our retirement incentive program ($3.4 million) and FICA contributions ($1.6 million), those costs are offset somewhat.

While we cannot be certain about any pay raises until the Metro Council approves a final budget amount in June, we believe a pay raise for all employees rewards the hard work and improvements happening in our schools and will keep our district on track to attract and retain the very best teachers and staff.

Read Part 1 of this series – Budget Priority: Prekindergarten

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: Expanding prekindergarten pays off big dividends

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Adding 340 New Prekindergarten Seats
  • Investment: $3.4 million for hiring teachers, buying equipment, developing curriculum and more

Less than half of students coming into kindergarten in Metro Schools have access to affordable, high-quality preschool programs. Right now in our own prekindergarten classes, we can only serve about 2,500 kids. Head Start serves another 1,400 children, and private providers serve more, but many families who want and need pre-K are not served.

There are more than 1,100 children on our pre-k wait list. We need to change that.

One of our top budget priorities this year is to start expanding pre-k now so we can serve all eligible families in Davidson County by 2018. The first step is adding 340 new high-quality pre-k seats next year in strategically located Pre-k Model Learning Centers.

We’ve already talked about the whys and the research extensively, so let’s get into the particulars that give this plan the potential for success for a relatively small investment.

The Board of Education has approved turning Ross and Bordeaux Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers, as well as opening new classrooms in the Casa Azafran community center on Nolensville road. These centers will provide:

  • Exemplary teachers and assistant teachers in every classroom with knowledge of early childhood development
  • Instructional leaders focused on creating centers of excellence in staff development
  • Intensive focus on language development, early math skills and multicultural programming
  • Priority placed on children’s social-emotional development and executive function
  • Full-day programming (8:00 am to 3:00 pm), with before and after-care options
  • Strong parent engagement, including parent education, to support student learning at home
  • Partnerships to ensure comprehensive health and social services for students and families

The Model Learning Centers won’t just serve students, but teachers, too. Pre-k teachers from across Nashville will come to the Centers to learn best practices and get professional development.

To focus on that instructional quality in addition to classroom quantity, we’re partnering with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University to help us develop the program and the best practices to be modeled in these centers. We are also working with Head Start, the United Way, Conexion Americas and other experts in community service to better serve the whole child and provide wrap-around services for families. If families and children have access to what they need outside school, they have a better chance for success in school.

The need for more pre-k seats is particularly urgent now, as changes to Tennessee kindergarten age requirements mean as many as 800-1,000 Nashville children will be left without an affordable, high-quality early learning option. If we want to see real progress in educational outcomes in Nashville, we have to start early. That means getting more students into pre-k, where they can be adequately prepared for a rich and rewarding K-12 learning experience.

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

Metro Schools receives nine charter school applications in 2014

Metro Nashville Public Schools received nine applications for charter schools to open in the fall of 2015 by the April 1, 2014, deadline. Three applications propose expanding schools currently operating; three propose replicating school models approved by the Board of Education last year and three are from new school operators.

“This is the next important step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who leads the Innovation Office that manages charter school authorizing for Metro Schools. “Later this week, application review committees will begin examining each proposal.”

The district’s work to professionalize charter school authorizing and oversight since 2009 has borne fruit as the district has granted charters to several academically high-performing schools that serve diverse student bodies.

Review teams are organized and trained according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

“We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

A thorough review of each application against a detailed scoring rubric is the first step in the evaluation. Each proposal is examined for its capacity to provide an exemplary educational program, strong operational capacity, and long-term financial viability. The final evaluation includes an interview with each applicant group and an evaluation against Board-articulated priorities, including academic excellence and diversity, school conversion and student growth management. Recommendations will be delivered to the School Board in late July.

“The Metro Schools mission emphasizes the importance of high-performing and diverse schools and we are pleased to see some real successes in those areas with schools serving students well each year,” said Coverstone.

Applications now under review are:

  • The International Academy of Excellence – Proposed to serve K-4 beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES) – Proposed as a phased conversion of a target school to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1 and growing one grade per year.
  • Knowledge Academy High – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 105 students, building out 420 students at capacity.
  • Rocketship – Proposed Rocketship schools would serve PK – 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575. One application is for a new school in South Nashville and a second would convert management of a target school.
  • STEM Prep – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
  • STRIVE Collegiate Academy – Proposed middle school serving grades 5-8, opening with grade 5 and 115 students, reaching a capacity of 460 in grades 5-8.
  • The Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science and Technology Academy – Proposed high school to begin with grade 9, 40 students and at capacity serve 400 students in grades 9-12.
  • Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast – Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville.  At capacity would serve 975 students.

What can you do to help heating and cooling at your school?

We hear you: there are some heat issues in Metro schools. Some classrooms, lunchrooms and libraries scattered across the district are colder than normal.

We know it, and we’re addressing it. The unprecedented cold that has gripped Nashville this month has made it very difficult. When possible, principals and teachers work together to make other arrangements for students in cold classrooms. I’ve personally spoken with many principals who either moved students to a warmer part of the building or let them wear extra coats and jackets.

But you should know this: our maintenance crews are still working long hours to make repairs. They haven’t stopped working since this cold snap started early this month. They prioritize repair jobs according to a strict system and get to work on what needs it most.

So what is the long-term solution here? Besides making basic repairs or temporary fixes to get us through the rest of the winter, what can we do to keep students comfortable now and in the future?

Support funding for our schools.

Food for thought: MNPS has 14 million square feet of space in 200 buildings. The average age of our buildings is 43 years. Each campus has an average of 100 pieces of heating and cooling equipment. Many of these systems are old, sometimes very old.

We have a team of just 15 people on our HVAC crew to maintain them all.

Our maintenance employees work hard to keep systems running, but some just need to be replaced. That takes capital funding. The best way to ensure long-term solutions to cold buildings is to support capital funding for Metro Schools.

By supporting capital funding, you are not only making sure we can replace aging boilers and air handlers, you are also helping us get rid of portables at schools like Lakeview Elementary, Westmeade Elementary, Paragon Mills Elementary and many more. The more classrooms we can build with capital funds, the fewer students we will have to serve in portable, temporary classrooms.

How does capital funding work? Our Board of Education approves a capital funding request that includes all projects we want to fund this year. The Mayor and Metro Council then review that request and decide how much of it to fund.

The Board of Education will vote on this year’s Capital Budget request in a specially called meeting this Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. You can watch the live-blog of their vote right here.

See the full Capital Budget proposal right here.

To see what it’s like to be one of those people working hard to keep HVAC equipment running, read this.

To see how this season has affected our crews – and their budgets – read this.

Facts on district revenue and per-pupil spending

In past articles, we’ve shown you how much money we get and where it all goes.

Our community deserves an honest dialogue – without ideology and special interest talking points – about school funding that includes a fair assessment of needs, expenses, and revenue.

So let’s talk for a moment about where money comes from and under what circumstances we get more of it.

Where does revenue come from?

About a third of our operating budget comes from the State of Tennessee. They give us a certain amount of money per student and according to what kind of student. When more students enroll, our revenue from the state goes up, to the tune of about $3,200 per student.

The other two-thirds comes from the Metro Government, paid from county taxes and allocated by the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council. The amount of money we get from the Metro Government is fixed. It is not tied to a per-student formula the way state money is.

This year our enrollment is up by nearly 1,800 students. About a third of our revenue (from the state) reflected that increase. The other two-thirds of our revenue (from the Metro Government) remained flat.

[NOTE: We received a $26 million increase in our operating budget from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Of this $26 million, $12 million came from our own fund balance, $10 million came from the state and $4 million came from Metro Government.]

How does that money move around the district?

It’s a phrase people use a lot: per-pupil spending. Metro Schools spends around $9,100 per pupil in grades K-12. When a student moves from one school to another, the money theoretically follows him.

If the student leaves his neighborhood school and moves into a magnet school, he is moving from one district-operated school to another. The money attached to him stays in the same pot of district money and our per-pupil spending amount stays the same.

When a student leaves his neighborhood school – or a magnet school – for a charter school, the $9,100 moves to the charter management organization that runs the charter.

When a student leaves a district school for a private school, the money does not follow him to the private school. The district loses the state revenue associated with that student, but the private school does not get it. The funding from Metro Government is unchanged. The private school gets private money in the form of tuition.

The expenses of the neighborhood school don’t increase with every additional student and don’t decline with every student departure. The school is spending the same amount to keep its lights on and its hallways clean. The school still has teachers to pay and technology to buy and maintain.

Innovative practices that are designed to quickly improve achievement could face tough times, like extended learning time, model classrooms and certain kinds of school-level professional development.

What’s the solution?

Our strategic plan calls for more equitable use of resources, placing money where it’s needed most for fair service of students. We are already moving toward a model that puts more money directly in the hands of principals, allowing them to spend money in ways that will most directly benefit the unique needs of their students. That will help everyone decide best allocation of existing resources and ensure that money is spent in the most effective ways.

But what about revenue?

The answer will come from a community discussion of school finances. We must have an honest and open dialogue about revenue and expenses. The Board of Education began that conversation this fall, well in advance of the usual budget cycle.

This issue has wide-reaching effects, beyond just budgeting and buying textbooks. It can affect a school’s character and existence.

Let’s look at it at the individual school level. When a school is constantly threatened with drastic budget cuts or even closure, it has a more difficult time attracting students, which leads to further budget reductions.

It is a cycle that puts even more of a burden on teachers and principals to properly educate the students they already have.

Tell us what you think of the 2014-15 district calendar

Two years ago we came to you with an idea to change the school calendar in a pretty big way.  We wanted more balance between blocks of school days and breaks. That meant starting school on August 1, giving us extra days throughout the year to benefit students, and shortening summer break to reduce the gap in instruction from one school year to the next.

Last year we used those extra days for intersession, just like we’ll do this year. Intersession is an opportunity for students to extend learning beyond what they could get in regular classroom time. In order to be truly successful, it requires funding to match its ambitions.

That did not happen. Cuts to federal funding meant we could not serve as many students as we’d hoped. While we are pleased overall with how intersession went in its pilot year and heard good reports from participating families, lack of transportation and limited funding for programs meant most students did not take advantage of it.

Intersession fills a need and want for many families. But it is just one element of a balanced school calendar. We are now exploring alternative ways to extend the school year, including one that benefits all students.

A calendar committee that included parents, principals, administrators and employee union members developed these recommendations for the board of education. In all options:

  • The first day of school is August 1
  • The last day of school is May 28
  • The 2014 summer break is nine weeks long

The options for the 2014-15 district calendar are:

  • Option #1
    Consistent with the current calendar, this option has two intersession periods in October and March. This option is cost neutral.

    • 175 regular instructional days
    • four days each in October and March that could be used either for intersession or an extended break
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days for teacher planning and professional development
    • five days built in for inclement weather
  • Option #2
    This calendar essentially turns intersession days into regular school days and more professional development days for teachers. This option would cost an additional $20-21 million for the added days.

    • 180 regular instructional days
    • nine days for teacher professional development (including four from local funds)
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days built in for inclement weather

Option #1 is a good calendar. It served us well last year and will serve us well this year, too. The intersession periods give us the opportunity to reach as many students as we can for enrichment and remediation without additional funds. Given the current economic situation, we do not know what intersession could look like in 2014-15, but we will do our utmost to make it valuable to Nashvillians.

Option #2 is our preferred option. We want to add more time in the classroom for all students so we meet the national standard of 180 instructional days. Further, we want to ensure that time is quality time in the classroom by providing our teachers time for professional learning and growth throughout the year. As a result it gives teachers ten additional paid workdays in the year.

The final decision on which calendar to use falls to the Board of Education, but we want to know what you think. Which calendar would you prefer?

See all calendar options.

Send your feedback to
MNPSCommunications@mnps.org

Come to our public discussion on
July 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
in the MNPS Board Room.

Defend the Dream: All students deserve the chance to be educated

We believe in the best education possible for all students. We believe every student is capable of reaching college and finding success as a lifelong learner.

But many bright students in Metro Schools are left behind and counted out of a full education through no fault of their own. Undocumented students, brought to this country by their parents, want to be educated.

They are left to be dreamers, imagining what it could be like if higher education were in their future. Some even drop out of high school because they don’t see how a diploma will make a difference when most college and employment opportunities are closed to them.

That’s why the Board of Education has gone on record as supporting immigration reform.

As elected officials in Washington debate immigration reform, we hope you’ll remember these dreamers. We need to open access to our educational systems to them so all Americans can benefit.

Write to Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

Contact Tennessee’s U.S. Representatives

As one of the most diverse school districts in the country, we know why immigration reform is important to the future of our community, our schools and especially our kids.

Students here without proper documentation worry about their security, whether they will be separated from their families, how long they’ll be able to attend school and their future opportunities.

When it comes time for college, these students are left behind. In Tennessee, undocumented students pay three times the normal in-state tuition to attend state schools, even if they have lived here since infancy. Scholarships and financial aid are also out of reach.

See the challenges faced by many immigrant students on the road to graduation.

Write to Tennessee’s U.S. Senators and Representatives. Tell them you support giving undocumented students a chance at building a future in our country. Tell them to support immigration reform.

Six applications to open charter schools in 2014-15

UPDATE: The Board of Education is scheduled to hear recommendations and take action on these six applications at its June 25 meeting. This meeting will be covered on the district live-blog, which you can watch on MNPS.org.


The charter school applications for the 2013 cycle are in and under review.

Out of ten letters of intent, we received six full applications to be considered for charters. Three review teams are now poring over two applications each, with interviews and recommendations to follow.

The applications came in on April 1, and we have 90 days for review, recommendations to the Board of Education and final approval or denial by the Board.

Here is the timeline for moving forward:

  • May 7 – All applicants come in for interviews with the application review teams
  • Mid-May – Plans are yet to be finalized for a specific date, but there will be a time for public comment on applicants before the Board
  • Mid-May – A round of cuts is made, with select applicants moving forward toward recommendation. Other applicants that do not make the cut will not be recommended for approval.
  • May 28 – Selected applicants come in for second round interviews.
  • Early June – Review teams will submit reports to officials from the Office of Innovation, who will prepare final recommendations for the Board
  • Late June – Recommendations are made to the Board of Education for approval or denial of charters (June 25 at the latest)

Why did we receive only six applications from ten letters of intent? One school did not make the final deadline, another withdrew its application so it could have more time to put it together and two more did not complete all elements of the application as legally required by the State of Tennessee.

Our teams are excited to be digging into these applications, and I know we’re all looking forward to seeing what comes of them.

View the Applications: