What can Alan Coverstone learn about school culture from elementary students?

by Gay Burden, Manager of Innovation Design

We’ve heard it repeatedly: Students want more voice in school decisions and policy. And as we work to speed up our progress and improvements, they will definitely be heard.

Our partners at Tribal Education were the latest to bring this to our attention as they reviewed 34 of our low performing schools. They spoke extensively with students, teachers, and parents to find out what each group needs and what will help our schools serve them better.

As we looked over their reports and wrote up plans for improvement, Alan’s Lunch Bunch was born. This is a venue to give students a greater voice in their schools. Alan Coverstone, Executive Director of Innovation, sits down with a group of randomly selected students at one of our schools from the Innovation Cluster just to talk about how things are going.

So what would students do with a magic wand to create a perfect school? Every Lunch Bunch goes in a different direction. Sometimes they talk about changes to instruction, other times they talk about changes in the school culture.

This week at Napier Enhanced Option Elementary School students talked about their principal, their goals this year and what they would do if they were principal for a day.

Here are just a few things the students shared with Alan:

  • “He (Dr. Ronald Powe) is nice to us and helps us when we need it so we can learn more so we can grow up to be like him and be a principal.”
  • “When others put us down, he picks us up.”
  • “My goal is to make graduation.”
  • “My sight words are so easy, now I am ready to read real books.”
  • “If I were principal, I would compliment all of the teachers because they help all of us do the best.”

Alan learns quite a bit about the culture from each Lunch bunch.  At Napier Elementary, Alan was struck by the strong and growing relationships between the adults and students.

“It was fun to see the students excited about their school and learning,” he said, “particularly the admiration the students, teachers and staff have for the principal. Dr. Powe does a great job at making everyone feel they are contributing to the success of Napier.”

Interviewing students to get ideas about what is working or not working in a school is a great way to learn their perspectives. It is also a great way to generate ideas for new strategies or fresh approaches to initiatives focused on student learning. Ultimately, the Lunch Bunch is about building a positive community culture in our schools.

Pictures from Alan’s lunch at Napier Elementary:

What does a bank executive think about being principal for a day?

by Connie White, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Fifth Third Bank

As I walked up the stairs to start my first morning as Principal for a Day at East Nashville Magnet School, I wondered what the walls of this 80 year old school would tell me if they could talk. After my visit, again, I was curious what these walls will tell us in the next five years.

My prediction: I believe they will talk of the seniors who are better prepared, academically and socially, to be active members of society. I believe that 100% of the seniors will graduate, and even more students will gain and seize the opportunity a college education can bring. Yes I believe the walls will talk about reaping the harvest from the seeds sewn by the MNPS Paideia Lead Principal, Steve Ball, staff and teachers, in just a few years.

Why is this data geek (me), making a prediction without reviewing test scores? Engagement. Respect. Collaboration. Caring. Pride.

Yes, I saw all of that and more, when I recently had the privilege of visiting East Magnet Middle School and High School with Principal Steve Ball. I saw a team all focused on learning in an environment where students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. I saw students who were actively engaged and were taking responsibility of their quest for knowledge.

I wish you could have seen the fifth graders smile as they proudly gave articulate narratives about the outcome of a recent project using Power Point, posters, and props to make their points. Or if you’d seen every hand in the room eagerly waving to answer questions in science class, you might understand the level of enthusiastic engagement I saw. If you could hear the pride in Principal’s voice announcing in the morning call that two more seniors gained their college acceptance letters, you’d understand the caring for students. Or if you’d heard the students making their way to their next class continuously saying, “Good morning Principal Ball,” you could witness the mutual respect I experienced.

Admitting that I’d never seen such an engaged student body that seemed to have more interest in learning than social exchange at that age, I asked about it. “These students want to be here to learn,” said Principal Ball. I was somewhat astonished because in my high school days we thought about our dates, parties, and attire and talked about how we couldn’t wait to graduate to be on our own.

As we talked more, I learned that Principal Ball was responsible for bringing the Paideia education process to East Nashville Magnet Schools, a process where students actively engage in intellectual discussions and learn from each other. Using this process to discuss current issues, students also learn the art of collaboration as they learn to listen and value many ideas and opinions. I came to respect this process and understood that students could practice this process to learn throughout their life’s journey, whether in school, the business world or their community.

If you ever gain the opportunity to visit East Nashville Magnet School, I encourage you to go. I promise you, it will be worth every minute of your time to witness a team that focuses on equipping children with a good academic base, social and learning skills for life… and the academic knowledge to exceed national test scores.

District-charter collaboration leads to transparency, high standards, & real opportunity

by Alan Coverstone, Executive Director of the Office of Innovation

In Nashville, when we first sat down to determine if it would be possible to build a collaborative relationship between our school district and charter school leaders, very few places had tried it. Just a short time later, our District-Charter Collaboration Compact was recognized as one of the first nine nationwide, and charter and district leaders have been building their cooperation ever since. We are learning a great deal with and from each other, and most of the lessons were made possible by the leaders who agreed to explore that first step.

We are fortunate the district leaders and charter leaders who helped develop the compact had the foresight to realize that unless we agreed on the outcomes we expect from our schools, we would never be able to work together effectively. Spending our time trying to show the data on our schools only in the most favorable light, whether in favor of charters or district schools, is a waste of time and contributes to misunderstanding and cynicism. Parents need to know objectively how schools are doing with all schools measured on the same balanced, objective criteria so their school choices will be informed through data.

Our District-Charter Collaboration Compact begins and ends with our shared commitment to high-performing schools for every student in Nashville regardless of whether that high performer is a charter, magnet, design center, enhanced option, or zoned school. Holding all schools to the highest possible standards is good for kids and making the information fair, useable and available for parents is too.

Nashville Public Schools Scorecard

We have taken an important step in that direction with the release of our new Scorecard comparison tool that allows parents to see the same measures for different schools side–by-side. With this information, visits to schools can be even more helpful as parents get to know the people in the building working hard to improve achievement by creating real opportunities for students.

 

Explore the Scorecard

Explore Your School Options

Guest Post: Raise My Property Tax. It’s Time.

By Robert Gowan, public school parent & advocate

Mayor Dean has proposed a 53-cent property tax increase for Metro-Nashville taxpayers. The proposed increase would raise about $100 million and $46 million of the increase will go to Metro Schools – a significant portion of the Metro Schools money will go to raise starting teacher salaries by $5,000. Offering a starting salary of $40,000 per year will make Metro very competitive when it comes to recruiting and retaining high quality, effective teachers.

There has been a lot of talk in Tennessee during the last several years about the need for a high quality, effective teacher in every classroom. There has not been much talk about paying those high quality, effective teachers what they are worth. The Metro School Board and Dr. Jesse Register’s proposal to raise starting teacher pay is a huge step toward recognizing the value of high quality, effective teachers.

And we really don’t have a choice except to be more competitive in recruiting and retaining new teachers. After changes to state law during the last three years, I would argue that Tennessee demands more of its public school teachers than any other state. We will have to pay more to keep the high quality, effective teachers we have and to recruit new teachers.

There are several other very important things in Mayor Dean’s proposed budget (funds to retain 50 police officers currently being paid by a federal grant, money to add two positions to the District Attorney’s Office to handle domestic violence cases), but the proposed investment in salaries for Metro’s teachers is a game changer that should be a model for every other school system in the state.

There has not been a property tax increase in Nashville for seven years. Even with this increase Metro’s property tax rate would be the lowest of the four largest cities in Tennessee.

I just ran the calculation on how much 53 cents will cost me. The property tax increase will cost half of what I spent on iTunes last month. The increase is about one-third of what I pay every month for cellphone service. I’m more than willing to pay that to ensure that Metro Schools can continue to recruit and retain high quality, effective teachers for my kids.

This property tax is overdue and it’s necessary if we really want to improve public education in Nashville. The Metro Council should approve the Mayor’s proposed budget as soon as possible.

Please encourage the Metro Council to approve Mayor Dean’s proposed budget. Voting for a tax increase is never easy and our council members need to hear from as many people as possible who want to make this investment in our public schools.