Dr. Jesse Register calls on East Nashville to help build a plan for creating more high-quality school choices

Metro Schools to form community advisory committee

Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register is calling for a formal community advisory committee to help build a plan for the future of East Nashville public schools. Together with on-going faculty and parent meetings, this committee represents a full commitment to community input and participation in the development of a plan for turning around low-performing schools and ensuring high-quality educational choices for all students in East Nashville.

Dr. Register is working closely with schools, leaders and stakeholder groups to form the East Nashville Priority Schools Advisory Committee. It will be made up of community-appointed representatives who can speak on behalf of their peers and unify East Nashville behind quality public education.

“This advisory committee is a natural outgrowth of the parent meetings we’ve been having for the last three weeks,” said Dr. Register. “I’ve already met with hundreds of parents. Many of them have different opinions, but we’re hearing common themes come up again and again – most notably their shared desire with us to have high-quality neighborhood schools. The next step for us is to bring together a group of representative voices to focus the conversation into substantive, usable recommendations from the community.”

The committee will be made up of 20 representatives, all appointed by important stakeholders in this issue. Members will meet regularly to receive a progress update on the planning process from the district’s administration and report the feedback and ideas of the community. The end goal is to develop general consensus on recommendations that represent community and stakeholder opinions that can be used in finalizing a proposal for the Board of Education.

Dr. Register added, “This committee will help ensure every voice in East Nashville is heard. Together, we can build a community of successful schools for all students.”

Committee appointments are expected in the coming days, with a meeting schedule to be decided soon.

Expected appointments:

  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster parent
  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster student
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster parent
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster student
  • Councilman Peter Westerholm will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Anthony Davis will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Scott Davis will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Councilman Karen Bennett will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Kirkpatrick Elementary principal Mildred Nelson will work with parents to appoint a Kirkpatrick parent; Ms. Nelson will also appoint a Kirkpatrick teacher
  • Inglewood Elementary principal Carrie Mickle will work with parents to appoint an Inglewood parent; Ms. Mickle will also appoint an Inglewood teacher
  • Bailey Middle principal Christian Sawyer will work with parents to appoint a Bailey parent; Dr. Sawyer will also appoint a Bailey teacher
  • Jere Baxter Middle principal Miriam Harrington will work with parents to appoint a Jere Baxter parent; Ms. Harrington will also appoint a Jere Baxter teacher
  • Register will work with the district’s lead principals to appoint a principal from one priority school
  • East Nashville charter school leaders will appoint one representative
  • East Nashville United will appoint one representative
  • Community PTO will appoint one representative

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

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.

Nine letters of intent to apply to open charter schools in Nashville

Nine charter school operators submitted initial Letters of Intent to apply for charters to operate schools beginning in the Fall of 2015. Four of the letters represent expansions of schools currently operating in Nashville and earning ratings of Achieving or Excelling on the MNPS Academic Performance Framework in 2013. Two letters represent expansions of nationally successful school models approved by the School Board last year. Three letters are from new school operators.

“This is a very early step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who heads the Innovation Office which manages charter school authorizing for MNPS. “We will not know how well prepared the schools are to operate and meet the immediate needs in our district until after their applications are submitted April 1, 2014.”

Efforts to professionalize authorizing and oversight of charter schools since 2009 have borne fruit as the District has granted charters to several schools that are both academically high-performing and serve a diverse student body.

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

Once actual applications are received on April 1st, each will undergo a rigorous and thorough review of organizational and financial capacity, educational plans, accessibility, and need. “We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

Submission of letters of intent to apply to open charter schools gives the Office of Innovation two months to organize and train its application review teams according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

The time between now and April 1st also provides opportunity for potential applicants to consider, develop, and adapt plans in order to strengthen their potential applications and adapt their plans to best serve the articulated needs of MNPS students.

Read the 2014 Letters of Intent to Open a Charter School in MNPS

Of the nine filed, six propose replications of programs previously approved for operation in Nashville:

  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES) – Proposed to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1at 192 students and serving 480 students at capacity, 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.
  • RePublic Middle School – Proposed replication of Liberty Collegiate Academy, to serve Glencliff and Antioch clusters, grades 5-8, beginning with grade 5 and 110 students, building out to a capacity of 440 in grade 8.
  • Rocketship – Proposed Rocketship school would serve PK – 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575.
  • STEM Prep – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
  • Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast – Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville, grades 5-6 and 260 students beginning K-1 in year 2.  At capacity would serve 975 students.

The remaining three schools are:

  • The International Academy of Excellence – Proposed to serve K-4 in the Glencliff and Antioch clusters, beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Severe weather underlines need for school building improvements, expansions

The flood of May 2010 had a devastating impact on all of Nashville. Even those not directly affected knew someone who was. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, businesses were ruined and whole neighborhoods had to be rebuilt.

For Metro Schools buildings and facilities, the 2014 “arctic vortex” was worse.

The damage was more widespread and emergency repairs more numerous than after the great flood. It’s a rare occurrence, but also the perfect illustration of employee dedication to Nashville’s students.

Here are the raw numbers from last week:

  • 369 work orders for heat
  • 75 work orders for plumbing (so far)
  • 250 bus repairs
  • 100 “road calls” for bus repairs off-site
  • 120 bus batteries replaced
  • More than $132,000 in maintenance costs alone. That does not include costs to the Transportation Department.

But the most important number is this one:

  • 2 instructional days lost

We hate to lose instruction days, but given the circumstances we’re pleased that number isn’t higher. If not for Metro Schools employees working around the clock (literally) in extreme circumstances (like zero-degree temperatures and sometimes chest-high water), it could have been much, much worse.

The hard work of Metro maintenance crews, transportation workers and GCA custodial teams allowed us to start our semester with minimal disruption. We owe them our thanks – today and every day – for keeping our schools in order.

They are prime examples of our philosophy that every single Metro Schools employee is responsible for supporting students.

The maintenance crews do their best with the resources available, but extreme cold takes a toll, particularly on aging plumbing and HVAC systems. The average age of our buildings is 43 years.

The clean up from this weather shines a big spotlight on the need for capital improvements in Metro school buildings. Not only are vital systems often decades old and in need of updating, but our schools use more than 350 portables just to house all 83,000 of our students.

Those portables suffer most in bad weather, with poor insulation, vulnerable electrical lines, no foundations and open walkways back to the main school building.

All told, needed improvements to Metro Schools facilities total more than $1 billion. We chip away at that bit by bit every year through the capital budget allocation from Metro Government, but new needs and changing circumstances – like extreme cold – keep adding to it.

A safe and comfortable learning environment is essential for student success in school. With support from the city, we can give students the buildings they deserve to learn in every day.

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.