School-based budgeting gives power to the principals

“Knowledge about the needs of students is greatest closest to the student… School leaders require the ability to make decisions based on their knowledge, expertise and professional discretion.”

In a world of principal autonomy and school-based decision making, what is left for the central organization of a modern school district? Where does it fit in, and what role does it have to play?

Here in Nashville, the role of central office is changing dramatically. The top-down management structure is disappearing. In its place is a knowledge and support organization designed to provide central services, study and share innovative practices, develop leaders and keep schools accountable. In fact, this change is already reflected in the district budget and in a pilot program working in 15 schools right now for school-based budgeting.

What is school-based budgeting, and what does that look like?

At these 15 schools, principals have direct control over $6,300 per student (on average), meaning they can spend that money as they see fit. That number is expected to increase over time. The rest of the money goes to central services like transportation, food services, human capital, textbooks, building services and more.

SEE the school’s individual budgets.

The idea is to bring powerful decision-making power right into the schools, where the most knowledge about individual students lives. Next year, this program is expected to expand to 50-60 schools and could go district-wide by 2015-16.

During that time the whole concept could go even further, putting 100% of per-pupil funding on school level budgets. That would greatly expand the level of flexibility and discretion given to each principal and ensure funding is distributed equitably based on individual student need. In that scenario, school leaders would “buy” central services from the district, and there would be certain non-negotiable services like the Board of Education.

This is a culture change, moving central office to a system of specialized support for schools and giving more decision-making power to principals.

High school graduate or dropout? It’s complicated.

When is a high school dropout really a graduate? It’s a strange but appropriate question when you look at the way graduate rates are calculated.

The education team at Nashville Public Television explores this question and breaks down what Nashville’s graduation rate really means in a new documentary airing this Thursday night at 9:00 p.m. The special is called “Graduation by the Numbers” and is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” series exploring high school dropout rates and efforts to boost graduation.

If you haven’t seen the previous “American Graduate” entry from NPT, called “Translating the Dream,” you’re really missing out. It looks at the challenges facing English learner and immigrant students as they try to graduate high school and navigate the options – or lack of options – given to them afterward.

If you want to join the conversation about graduates and dropouts, you can join NPT online this Tuesday night, January 22 at 7:30 p.m., for an online social screening of “Translating the Dream” using a new public media tool called OVEE. Producer LaTonya Turner and other panelists will join in on the discussion.

Translating the Dream: Online screening & panel discussion
Tuesday, January 22 at 7:30 p.m.
Click here to take part.

“Graduation by the Numbers”
Documentary airs Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m.
on NPT channel 8

Here is more from the NPT press release:

Half-hour documentary looks at “Graduation by the Numbers;” part of national “American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen” initiative.

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – January 10, 2013 — Nashville Public Television (NPT-Channel 8)  takes an in-depth look at efforts in Nashville to keep students in school until they graduate in “NPT Reports: Graduation by the Numbers,” premiering Thursday, January 24 at 9:00 p.m. The documentary is part of the national “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen” initiative.

In Nashville Public Schools in 2012, one in 11 students dropped out — 8.8 percent — which is almost four times the previous year’s dropout rate. But a student counted as a dropout is not necessarily someone who does not graduate. The result is that the graduation rate can go up—even as the rate of dropouts goes up. The NPT report, produced and narrated by LaTonya Turner, looks at why the numbers for graduates and those for dropouts often don’t add up.

“The numbers can be confusing and in some cases misrepresentative of who is graduating and who is not,” says Turner.

Nashville school officials have taken the lead in Tennessee by looking for ways to make student data more useful, accurate, and accessible, with the goal of spotting students in trouble before they show up in school reports or drop out altogether. The main risk factors for students dropping out are: attendance, academic performance, and behavior. Using a new online digital system for tracking individual student data called the Data Dashboard, Nashville educators can now pinpoint and trace the risk factors and intervene with the student early enough to prevent failure. They are finding that high school may be too late; the risk in many cases begins in middle school or even earlier.

Nashville’s new middle school bridge program was begun to specifically start honing in on earlier for students at risk of dropping out. Simultaneously, some Nashville high schools are now aggressively working to retain the students who might have slipped through but are starting to slip off the path to graduation..” to graduation. A good example is McGavock High School, the largest school in Nashville, which was among the first to embrace the Data Dashboard as a tool – from the office to students in the classroom. It’s part of McGavock’s aggressive effort to turn around a dismal performance record.

Following Nashville’s lead, Tennessee education officials are on the cusp of launching a statewide online data tracking system. The goal is to help educators more effectively identify and reach out to individual students with strategies and support that address their specific risk factors for dropping out before graduation.

“Graduation by the Numbers” is the second in a series of public affairs documentary by NPT as part of its role in the national Corporation for Public Broadcating (CPB) initiative “American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen.” The first was “NPT Reports: Translating the Dream,”  an in-depth look at the graduation rate among ELL and immigrant students in Tennessee; the challenges they face that can prevent them from graduating on time; how schools and teachers are trying to address this increasingly demanding need; and how all of us are impacted when students drop out of school. It is available for free online viewing now at http://wnpt.org/amgrad.

About Nashville Public Television
Nashville Public Television is available free and over the air to nearly 2.4 million people throughout the Middle Tennessee and southern Kentucky viewing area, and is watched by more than 600,000 households every week. The mission of NPT is to provide, through the power of traditional television and interactive telecommunications, high quality educational, cultural and civic experiences that address issues and concerns of the people of the Nashville region, and which thereby help improve the lives of those we serve.

About American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen
American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen is helping local communities identify and implement solutions to the high school dropout crisis. American Graduate demonstrates public media’s commitment to education and its deep roots in every community it serves. Beyond providing programming that educates, informs and inspires, public radio and television stations — locally owned and operated — are an important resource in helping to address critical issues, such as the dropout rate. In addition to national programming, more than 75 public radio and television stations have launched on-the-ground efforts working with community and at risk youth to keep students on-track to high school graduation. More than 800 partnerships have been formed locally through American Graduate, and CPB is working with Alma and Colin Powell’s America’s Promise Alliance and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation .

About CPB
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967, is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. It helps support the operations of more than 1,300 locally-owned and -operated public television and radio stations nationwide, and is the largest single source of funding for research, technology, and program development for public radio, television and related online services.

Two teachers at Metro Schools named Nashvillians of the Year for 2012

Nashvillians of the Year Cover Photo

Cover courtesy of The Nashville Scene and photographer Michael W. Bunch

What a way to end 2012.

Two teachers in Metro Schools have been named Nashvillians of the Year by the Nashville Scene. Adam Taylor of Overton High School and Christina McDonald of Nashville Prep Charter School represent the teachers who “give Nashville’s schoolchildren, no matter what their background, a fighting chance to reach their brightest future.”

In a lengthy and detailed article, reporter Steven Hale lays out the bare – and sometimes forgotten – fact in our city’s current debate over education: whether charter school or district school, great teachers are at the center of great education.

It’s a great piece, and I strongly recommend you take a few moments to read the full article so you can see how teachers like Christina and Adam can bring the focus of the education discussion back where it belongs.

The Scene would like to refocus the discussion of public education not on differences and squabbles, but on the enormous asset that charter and public schools have in common: the teachers who are the most active, direct agents of hope Nashville’s children will face outside the home. As our 2012 Nashvillians of the Year, the Scene honors two such instructors: one from a charter school, Christina McDonald at Nashville Prep, and one from a traditional Metro district school, Adam Taylor at Overton High.

They are hardly alone. Space does not permit us to list the many outstanding district and charter teachers who slug it out in Nashville’s trenches throughout the school year, fighting the shared enemies of poverty, hunger, troubled home lives, behavioral problems, language barriers, bad outside influences and limited resources. But McDonald and Taylor are sterling examples of what can be accomplished by creative thinking, supportive administrators, and sheer determination. To look inside their classrooms is to see small miracles happen every day — and to see a brighter future for Nashville schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds than statistics sometimes let us hope.

Read the full article here.

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.

ACT Now! Our plan to raise ACT scores across the district

Every high school student in Tennessee is required totake the ACT. Tennessee is one of just a handful of states with this requirement and while that is not always good for our public image – it perhaps puts statewide test scores below other states where only the best and brightest take the test – it is very good for our students. Some students who might not otherwise take the test are required to, giving them an additional college credential or even a HOPE scholarship.

We want all our high school students to score a bare minimum 21 on the ACT. Of course, we prepare them to reach much higher than that, but we set the minimum at 21 because that is when scholarships and financial aid to state schools are within reach. With a 21, many students can afford college.

This year’s ACT results for our district show we still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress.  In fact, we’ve advanced our scores at a faster rate than the rest of the state.

But it’s still not good enough. We need better results in a shorter amount of time. We need results like the ones at Hillwood High School.

In the short time since Hillwood principal Dr. Steve Chauncy started his ACT Now program, the percentage of his students scoring 21 or higher has risen nearly 10%. When you consider statewide gains are measured in tenths of a percent, that is a huge jump.

How did Hillwood do it? And how will Dr. Chauncy and the Hillwood team spread similar results district-wide?

  1. Practice, practice, practice
    Before students take the actual ACT in their junior year, they sit for up to six practice tests – one as freshmen, the PLAN test, two practice assessments as sophomores, and two as juniors. Those tests are as real as they come, often actual ACT exams from previous years given through a program called Learning Express. By the time they sit for the real thing, they know exactly what to expect.
  2. Targeted instruction
    Rather than teaching students how to take a test, data from these practice tests is used for targeted instruction in the classroom. Areas of need are identified for individual students, and lessons can be are tailored to those needs. That starts right away. Freshmen come into Hillwood carrying data from the EXPLORE test taken in middle school. That data is used to start building ACT college skills in freshmen seminar classes.
  3. Critical Thinking Classes
    All Hillwood sophomores take a Critical Thinking and Imaginative Writing course where they learn how to apply their knowledge to problem solving and real world scenarios. That helps work through tough questions like those on the ACT and the even tougher questions students will later address in college and in their careers.
  4. Adaptable Solutions for All Schools
    This program has been shared across the district to all zoned high schools. But not every high school is the same, so it is can be easily molded to fit a particular school’s needs, resources, and abilities. As schools find improvements, they will be incorporated into the ACT Now program so the district is in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Development for this program is far from over. We are going even deeper into the data, looking at individual questions on practice tests to identify the academic support students need and we are providing afterschool tutoring for juniors with support from HCA.

The program began at Hillwood in the fall of 2010 and is spreading so all our high schools see rapid growth and all students are college ready and eligible for scholarship dollars.