An Open Letter to Nashville Families from Dr. Jesse Register

To the families of Nashville,

This week we dropped a big piece of news that left more questions than answers. That’s breeding anxiety among many, so we write today to better explain our ideas and let you know what’s happening over the next several weeks.

Pardon the length of this letter, but there is a lot to talk about. First, let’s address East Nashville, then we can get to your biggest questions and concerns.

There is a lot of good happening in East Nashville, but also a lot of schools that need to do better. We have excellent neighborhood schools at Dan Mills and Lockeland. We have an excellent magnet school at East. We have excellent charter schools at KIPP and others. We are developing a strong K-12 pathway to Stratford STEM.

How can we make every school in East Nashville more like these excellent schools, so that no one attends a struggling school and everyone gets to choose among great school options? That’s what we hope to find.

What are the facts so far?
We are 100% committed to getting parent and community input at the beginning of this process, which is right now. That’s why we announced our intentions this week and why we are holding the first of many community meetings next week.

The plan is still in such early stages of development that all we can share right now are broad ideas and a few specifics. As we speak to families, teachers, principals and community members, more details can be formed and decisions made.

Here are the facts so far:

  • This is a plan to address and turn around all low performing schools in Nashville. In three years, we will have no schools on the state’s priority list. To do this, we are focusing on the bottom 25% district-wide.
  • In East Nashville, we want to give all families high-quality choices. Under this plan, all families in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters would get to choose their school, and no one would be assigned to a school by default.
  • Successful schools must be preserved. There are successful schools in East Nashville – several, in fact. We will not do anything to undermine or destroy these schools.
  • If your school is high performing, it will not close or convert.
  • If your school is high performing and you like it, you can stay there.

Will you eliminate the GPZ at Lockeland Elementary?
There are no plans to change the GPZ at Lockeland. Instead, we’ll look for ways to expand its reach. It’s so successful that we want to use it as a model.

Does that mean adding or opening up seats at Lockeland? Maybe. Does it mean changing another elementary school to be more like Lockeland and attract the growing Lockeland Springs population there? Maybe. We will know for certain very soon.

Choice does not mean the elimination of neighborhood schools like Lockeland. Choice schools can still be neighborhood schools. Lockeland is the prime example of this.

What does this plan mean for priority schools right now?
In the immediate future – meaning now and through the end of this school year – there will be some leadership and staff changes. We will also start building and implementing individualized plans of action for each priority school. This means there will be a broad strategy to turn that school around. Each plan will be different, based on the very specific needs of that school and its students.

Within the next few months, we expect to announce any possible closings or transitions. Those will take effect at the end of this school year. Before the school year is over, we will work closely with affected families on the choices available to them.

What does this plan mean for the future of East Nashville?
East Nashville needs more schools like Lockeland, Dan Mills, East Nashville Magnet and KIPP. All four of those are good schools and present a wide array of options for everyone. Families need security as their children transition to middle and high school. They need to be sure they will get into the schools they planned for. There must be quality choices available for the growing number of families and young children in East Nashville.

So this plan is about greater choice, but it’s also about sticking with the choice for as long as you like to – without the uncertainty of a lottery.

Using those good schools as starting points, let’s build pathways that children can follow – if they so choose – from kindergarten to graduation without having to go through the application and selection process.

What does that look like in practical terms?
Details are still being developed, but here are just a few of ideas being considered:

  • Turn a low performing elementary school into a strong Paideia school that feeds directly into East.
  • Strengthen the pipeline into Litton Middle and Stratford High by pairing more elementary schools with Dan Mills. These schools will get strong turnaround attention based on the specific needs of the families within that school.
  • Consider a K-12 pipeline for KIPP while building more seats at other successful charter schools so families who want to choose a successful charter school can do so at any grade.

Giving parents this certainty will help them make decisions early, which attracts more families to these schools. There are already a lot of choices in East Nashville. Let’s make them all quality choices and give families the security to stick with them.

What about closings and conversions?
We expect an announcement in the near future about which schools could be closed or converted. Those discussions are still underway, but we expect it to be very few.

We won’t try to hide it: there are some really tough decisions ahead. It’s never easy to close a school or transition it to a charter operator. Both are disruptive to families and logistically very difficult.

But the simple fact is that right now there are many more seats in East Nashville than there are students. Closing or consolidating schools gives us tighter focus on fixing what’s not working.

Why weren’t parents consulted until now?
We are still very early in this process, so parents are getting in early. Final decisions will not be made until we’ve visited schools, spoken to teachers and families, and gathered community input.

A priority schools task force has been meeting for two weeks to examine the facts, pull ideas together and start building a first draft of the overall plan.

Who is on this taskforce? What goes on at these meetings? Why isn’t the public invited to participate?
The task force is made up of 20 or so of the top administrators in the district representing several areas of expertise. They have met multiple times over the last couple of weeks armed with stacks of data. Every meeting includes a deep dive into individual student and teacher data, identifying issues and coming up with new ideas on how to solve them.

The task force is working in three main areas:

  • Great School Leadership
  • Excellent Teachers
  • System Supports

There are also people working with in all three areas to gather information and plan for communications and community engagement.

What will happen next?
Earlier this week, I met with all principals in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters to talk about the plan and the challenges they face. I will continue to meet with them throughout this process.

Starting next week, I will begin visits to every priority school and every school in East Nashville. I will spend most of my afternoon at each school, doing three things:

  • During the school day, I will tour and observe classrooms.
  • After dismissal, I will meet with the faculty to listen to them and talk about ideas for improvement.
  • In the evening, I will meet with families from that school to listen to them, answer questions and give updates on planning.

The schedule is in development, but these meetings are expected to begin next Thursday, Sept. 18. There will also be larger community meetings and several one-on-one meetings with community members to gather input and answer questions.

Every Friday, we will publish an update on the planning process and address any big questions or concerns we heard during the week.

This is going to be a long process of development and implementation. Some changes will take place immediately, while others will take longer.

We have a lot of hard work to do, but we look forward to having great parent partners to help us along the way.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.

DOWNLOAD this letter as a PDF

Avoiding a fiscal cliff in Tennessee public schools

As we open more charter schools, our ability to maintain zoned schools for neighborhood children will be challenged. In the 2013-14 school year, about $40 million of the district’s budget will flow to charter schools. That is a $15 million increase from this year, without a comparable reduction in expenses. With more charter schools applying to open and current charter schools increasing their enrollment, the fiscal impact will continue to increase.

In a column in today’s copy of “The Tennessean,” Dr. Register outlines why we should all be concerned about how the legislation for a statewide charter authorizer could affect the district’s budget and Davidson County taxpayers.

It is unfortunate that politics and political-style bickering has had such a prominent place in this debate. In the end this should only be about how we best serve students – in traditional and charter schools – and how we can sustain those services.

There are radicals in this state who have given up on public education. They have ignored our tradition of civility and collaboration and replaced it with Washington-style hardball politics. They are quick to criticize and slow to collaborate. The misused data and nasty commentaries dominating this discussion are not helping a single child, and they are not building on the traditions that have made Nashville great.

We must work together, set aside our differences for the greater good, roll up our sleeves and solve our problems. We are doing that in Nashville’s schools — both traditional and charter — and it’s working.

Read the full column:

In Nashville, for every student enrolled, charter schools will receive about $9,100 next year. Approximately two-thirds of that is from Davidson County taxpayers and one-third is state tax funding.

As in many Tennessee districts, Metro Schools’ expenses are mostly fixed. When a student enrolls in a charter school, we cannot reduce expenses by $9,100. The children continuing in our classrooms still need teachers, principals, librarians, bus drivers and cafeteria staff. They still need special education and English Learner services. We still heat, cool, clean and maintain their schools.

It is very difficult to cut our infrastructure because our student enrollment continues to grow. In fact, the district and charter schools are collaborating to match facilities and students. The district will provide five charter schools access to our facilities this fall. A new charter school in southeast Davidson County could relieve crowded schools in that area.

As we open more charter schools, our ability to maintain zoned schools for neighborhood children will be challenged. In the 2013-14 school year, about $40 million of the district’s budget will flow to charter schools. That is a $15 million increase from this year, without a comparable reduction in expenses. With more charter schools applying to open and current charter schools increasing their enrollment, the fiscal impact will continue to increase.

The number of charter schools we have authorized has put Metro Schools in the top 10 percent of districts nationally, and we want high-performing charter schools. As we authorize more, our expectation is for every charter school to outperform our district average, but exceeding the district average is getting harder. We continue to make very good progress in our zoned schools across the district.

There are radicals in this state who have given up on public education. They have ignored our tradition of civility and collaboration and replaced it with Washington-style hardball politics. They are quick to criticize and slow to collaborate. The misused data and nasty commentaries dominating this discussion are not helping a single child, and they are not building on the traditions that have made Nashville great.

We must work together, set aside our differences for the greater good, roll up our sleeves and solve our problems. We are doing that in Nashville’s schools — both traditional and charter — and it’s working.

Originally printed in in “The Tennessean.”

Watch Dr. Register, Board Chair Cheryl Mayes and Board Vice Chair Anna Shepherd talk about the budget in detail on OpenLine from NewsChannel5+.

You are invited: A conversation on School Vouchers

Join in a thoughtful discussion on a topic on many minds in Tennessee: School Vouchers.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville and Vanderbilt’s Peabody College are hosting a panel event called “Options in Education: School Vouchers – What Research Shows Us.” Alan Coverstone, the Metro Schools Executive Officer for Innovation will be on the panel, along with two professors from Peabody College.

The event is open to the public. Details are below.

The League of Women Voters of Nashville

in collaboration with

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

invites you to attend

Options in Education:

School Vouchers—What Research Shows Us

Thursday, February 7, 2013

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

The Commons Center in Room 233

Peabody Campus of Vanderbilt University

18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue, Nashville, TN 37212

Parking available in Lot 77, 18th Avenue South at Horton Avenue

Panel

Alan Coverstone, Executive Director

Office of Innovation

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Claire Smrekar, Associate Professor

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Dr. Ron Zimmer, Associate Professor of Public Policy and Education

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Report: District-charter collaboration is alive & well

“The reports of the death of [district-charter] collaboration in Nashville are greatly exaggerated.”

Cute, but true.

Nashville has a lot to be proud of in its commitment to high-quality education in all types of schools. A new report evaluating the collaboration-compact between Metro Schools and public charter schools agrees, while also laying out a path for future success.

The report finds collaboration alive and well in Nashville, despite a headline-grabbing controversy and the media storm that followed.

Through this summer of discontent, however, the substance of genuine collaboration enshrined in the original compact has persisted, and the charter school sector has continued to grow and thrive. Overall district performance has been enhanced by the work of charter schools as well as district schools with increased autonomy and strong, innovative leadership. The commitments in the original compact have, by and large, continued to develop, and Dr. Register and Dr. McQueen, Dean of the College of Education at Lipscomb have introduced monthly collaboration dinners linking charter and district leaders who have begun to cross-pollinate even more rapidly than before. Decentralization of the central office, greater school-level autonomy, and networks of excellence are expanding the promises of the original compact more aggressively than ever before.

Educators of all stripes continue to learn from each other thanks to this compact, according to the report, because success is success, no matter where it comes from.

But much has changed in the two years since the compact was first signed. Our district transformation continues to evolve, school personnel have changed, new schools have opened and the political climate is… different. Does this mean we need to update the compact?

This report says “yes” and recommends cementing collaboration into our very institution.

One thing is certain: We have come too far and laid too strong a foundation to allow collaboration to falter at this critical juncture…

However, the time is right for each of these recommendations to be considered in deeper substance and more lasting…

None of this would be possible without every-thing we have been through and experienced in the past two years. Without our first effort, we would not be in a position to institutionalize substantive collaboration as a centerpiece of district reform. We are in this position now because of everyone and every-thing that went before, and we owe it to them as well as our future generations of students and families to continue the work on behalf of our shared commitment to high-performing schools regardless of type.

Read the full report here. It’s well worth it to get a refreshing breath of optimism for a system that is working.

District-Charter Compact Annual Report 2012

Metro Public Charter Schools Website

Building the future of magnet schools in Nashville

by Anna Kucaj, Coordinator of Magnet Schools

It is an exciting time to work with magnet schools here in Nashville.

While magnets aren’t new to Metro Schools, we’ve recently added new ones and are developing more for the future. Two years ago we welcomed six new thematic magnet schools to the fold providing theme-based programs that engage students in STEM (Hattie Cotton, Bailey, & Stratford), museum studies (Robert Churchwell & John Early), and the entertainment industry (Pearl-Cohn).

READ MORE on thematic magnets in Metro Schools

These schools converted to magnets through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and keep us plenty busy. But we’re also gearing up to apply for the next round of funding offered by the Magnet School Assistance Program, meaning even more of our schools may offer enriching, hands-on programs like these.

Thanks to the optional schools process, we’ve had the chance to talk to students about what they like about their schools and to open our doors to parents looking to find the best fit for their children. We have also asked schools to show their interest in developing a magnet program by engaging parents, teachers, and community members in the process of identifying a theme and making a plan to serve students within their zone and across Davidson County.

It has been truly amazing to watch these groups join together and participate in conversations around new and innovative instruction that could provide even more options to Metro students and families.

Once schools have submitted their preliminary proposals, we will consult the U. S DOE guidelines and choose which schools to include in the application. We’ll work closely with those schools to develop a competitive grant application.

We believe in the theme-based magnet model. We have found that when students choose their school based on an interest in a theme, their level of engagement with the learning process increases, attendance increases, and discipline problems decline—all factors in successful schools and academic achievement.

In fact, Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School was recently named a Tennessee Reward School for being in the top 5% of schools in the entire state for annual growth.  We are exceptionally proud of the hard work of Hattie Cotton students, teachers, staff and families that made such a tremendous achievement possible.

One thing we have found as we build these new magnet programs: it’s the people involved who make the difference. We have students who come to school each morning ready to engage, teachers who participate in professional development after school and during the summer, parents who bring their child to school every day – either from across the street or across town, and partners who give of their time and resources to share their expertise.

With all of us working together, our magnet programs are becoming stronger!