Dr. Register calls for civility, formal cooperation in the education community

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register delivered these remarks to the Metro Council Education Committee on Thursday, July 10, 2014:

Chairman Glover, members of the Council Education Committee, and other Council members, after Steve talked to me about this session, I asked for a moment at the start of the meeting to say a few words to you about our school system in general and specifically about today’s briefing on Public Charter Schools. Your decision to meet as the Education Committee of the Metro Council on this important topic is both farsighted and commendable. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

I know I am taking advantage of my long-standing relationship with Chairman Glover with this request to address you, but without his involvement six years ago, I might not be standing here today as your superintendent, as Steve was the first person from Nashville to ask me to apply for this job. I appreciate this opportunity to say a few words, not as your director of schools necessarily, but as an educator, someone who cares deeply about public education and particularly about our school system and our children.

First I want to commend the Council and Mayor Dean for the significant investments in funding public education in Nashville you have made during my tenure here. We could not do what we do without your help and support. Thank you.

Let me start this off by saying what I hope all of you already know—we have a really good school system in this city with a strong foundation, great leaders and committed wonderful teachers. We have pockets of notable excellence and, of course, we still have a few areas of weakness. We are absolutely on the right path, but that path is not always easy.

As my official time as the leader of this community’s education system begins to wind down, and as I consider my experience as a lifelong educator and longtime superintendent, I want to tell you that your school system has the potential to be great…not just good or adequate, or OK, but truly great. The possibilities are endless, our goals are absolutely attainable, and the future is bright.

As all of you know, we have over the last few years experienced transformational change in the way we approach the education of our children in this community and across the nation. These changes have greatly increased the amount and the intensity of education-related discourse in our neighborhoods and across the city, as well as in the media.

The on-going, and frankly sometimes passionate, discussion about this important topic is good. Passion around the education of our children should be encouraged and celebrated. But over the last year or so there has been a steady and ever increasing tendency toward miscommunication and gamesmanship in our dialog and a push for polarization in our ongoing discussions about the future of public education in this city. These actions have created distrust and hard feelings where understanding and common purpose once ruled the day.

In the very near past when we disagreed, we did so respectfully. Not so today. It has at times become mean and personal. We have lost civility in our dialogue on education reform in general and, regrettably, particularly as it concerns our public charter schools. This loss of civility has caused good people and quality institutions that have the same basic goals—the quality education of future generations of Nashvillians–to take sides and develop an unhealthy “us” versus “them” mentality.

I think that most in the room will agree with me….enough is enough! This is not some sort of game where it’s OK to judge “winning or losing” by which press release or pithy statement gets printed in the newspaper or gets highlighted on the nightly news, or gets the most play on social media. This is not about a campaign to discredit one person or another because they may disagree with you; it should be about, and only be about, what’s best for our school system and developing and maintaining great schools for our children.

When we take a step back and really think about it, the biggest losers in this kind of scorched earth campaign-style approach to our discussion about schools of choice are our children. I believe this type of behavior needs to stop and it needs to stop now. If you agree with me, I ask for your help.

I am asking all of you tonight, individually as important opinion leaders in our community, and as members of the Council, to join me in finding the most effective way to immediately transition our dialog to a place where this community, and our school system, can find stability and reinstate a collaborative and transparent environment where innovation and true partnership can flourish. A place where all ideas are discussed respectfully. A place where the best ideas rise to the top and are implemented. And a place where bad or outdated ideas are simply left behind.

I plan to ask my partners over the coming days and weeks – Mayor Dean, Vice Mayor Neighbors and this Council, our state legislative delegation led by Speaker Harwell, Governor Haslam’s administration, community partners like the Public Education Foundation, Nashville’s Agenda, the Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, The United Way, the Charter community, and of course, our School Board, to join this effort.

It’s my desire that over the next few weeks and months we can address and eliminate the hard feelings that have developed and reinstate a constructive climate of trust and true collaboration. Why do I think this is so vitally important? Because our future, I believe, depends on it.

The next mayor of this city and the next superintendent of your school system will have an exciting opportunity presented to them as they transition into their new roles. These opportunities include the opportunity to take public education in Nashville to new heights of excellence. But I respectfully submit to you that if we aren’t thinking about how we reset the conversation on public education in this city, right now—tonight, starting right here in his chamber, this very instant–the new mayor and the new superintendent are going to find themselves in a precarious place and will be less able to take our system to the next level. This meeting today is the perfect context for this topic.

It is absolutely critical that the District embrace the important role that our education colleagues in the charter school sector play in the future of education in Nashville. I know that this District’s charters are by and large very successful. It is evident that we are seeing outstanding educational gains from public charter schools as well as from other schools of choice and many of our zoned schools.

While I am so very proud of all of these schools, I acknowledge there is a real and pressing need to literally reset the conversation about charters and other schools of choice. Specifically, I want to immediately jump start the process of determining best practices associated with what makes charters and other high performing schools work for our parents and children, and to facilitate the implementation of some of those ideas across our system. I hope the charter community will agree to assist me with this important work.

To that end, and as a first step, I am asking the Charter Center to work with me to convene a monthly meeting with charter school leaders, Dr. Coverstone, and other members of my senior staff, and any willing members of the Board of Education. There is so much common ground that exists among these individuals and institutions and we simply need to work harder to find and exploit this for the benefit of our children. We should be about this work starting tomorrow morning.

In the end, the question that we seem to have missed in the ongoing and overheated debate about charter schools is really very simple: How we can utilize our district assets—all district assets–especially our high performing schools that are built around some level of choice and excellence to ensure that our children, ALL OF OUR CHILDREN, regardless of where they reside, or where they go to school, can achieve to their highest potential.

To that end, I will be reaching out to my partners in the Nashville educational community (generally as we did with our recent attrition study) to have them assist the District in conducting in-depth research that will assist us in analyzing our financial practices to make sure that we are giving adequate weight to educational quality, results, and “return on our investment” in our District funding models. This research, when completed, will advance and build upon the limited initial work of the fiscal impact study that is currently underway, such that when both studies are complete we, and our constituents, partners, and funders, will have a more robust and complete, comprehensive and unbiased understanding of what it takes to lead our schools to the results we desire and that our children richly deserve.

In conclusion, I want to reset the conversation about the future of public education in Nashville. We must learn and build on our best practices from all high-performing schools to improve practices in every school. Most importantly, I want to renew a sincere spirit of civility, cooperation, and optimism when we agree, and lead a respectful, meaningful and constructive dialogue when we don’t. Over the next year, I am committed to doing everything I can, professionally and personally, to position Metro Schools to move toward being a world-class school system for this community. On this you have my word. Thank you Mr. Chairman for indulging me this courtesy, and thank you all for all you do every single day for this great city.

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.

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.

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:

Four big reasons behind our budget increase

It’s that time again. Budget time.

Work on the 2013-14 Metro Schools operating budget has been going on for months. Department heads and officials from the district business office have been going through budgets line item-by-line item, looking at each expense and its purpose in fulfilling our mission.

A draft of the budget is ready and available for review online. It calls for $764 million in funding, an increase of nearly $44 million over this year.

What’s behind the increase?

  • Fixed & Unavoidable Costs
    As is the case every year, certain cost increases are unavoidable. Salaries, insurance and pensions cost more. Utilities cost more. Just like in your family’s budget, inflation means it takes more money to provide the same services year over year.
  • Serving More Students
    Our student population is going up, too. We’re one of the very few urban districts in the country with increasing enrollment. That means more teachers, more support staff and more services provided to them.
  • New Schools
    Then there are the new schools opening up next year. We will add four new charter schools to our district, with an added cost of $14 million attached to them, as well as the cost of planned enrollment increases at current charter schools. There’s a lot of debate about charter schools, but what isn’t debatable is the impact they have on the district budget. In 2013-14, $40 million will flow directly to 19 charter schools. Because there are no comparable offsets to district expenses at traditional schools, that means sizeable increases to our operating budget.
  • Vital Technology Needs
    Our technology needs are more pressing now than in years past. Moving to the Common Core State Standards and the PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career readiness) assessments means many students have to start taking tests online. This means our technology infrastructure must get the upgrades it needs. We need the computers and internet backbone to allow thousands of students to take these computerized tests simultaneously.

Those four items make up the bulk of the budget increase. There aren’t a lot of major new programs or initiatives included. But there are needs in our Nashville schools that cannot be met without added funds.

Join the Board of Education for a public hearing on this budget on Tuesday, April 2, at 6:00 p.m. in the Board Room.

Board Chair Cheryl Mayes invites Commissioner Kevin Huffman to discuss HB702

Board Chair Cheryl Mayes has called a special School Board meeting to discuss House Bill 702 that would overhaul the State’s charter schools appeals process and the proposed amendment to restrict this legislation to five counties. A motion will be made to suspend the rules so appropriate actions may be taken by the Board.

Department of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman has been invited.

Watch the meeting live-blog on Monday, April 1, at 3:30 p.m.

Dear Commissioner Huffman:

On behalf of the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education, I am writing to invite you to join members of the school board, the Metro Council and the Davidson County legislative delegation for a specially called meeting on Monday, April 1, at 3:30 p.m. to discuss House Bill 702, which would overhaul the state’s charter schools appeals process. This meeting will be held in the Board Room at Metro Nashville Public Schools, 2601 Bransford Avenue.

After working in good faith for weeks to reach a consensus with House Speaker Beth Harwell and representatives from the Tennessee Charter Schools Association and the Tennessee School Boards Association, we were surprised to hear of your last minute objections to the fiscal reassurances we requested. We believe the legislation, as amended in the House Budget Subcommittee, poses significant fiscal risks for Metro Nashville Public Schools and Davidson County taxpayers. Moreover, the bill appears to be constitutionally suspect due to the fact that it is drawn narrowly to focus only on the school districts in Nashville and Memphis.

In the spirit of collaboration, we would like to meet for an open and unvarnished conversation in hope of resolving our differences over this legislation and moving forward for the benefit of Nashville’s students and families. Please let me know if you are able to join us for a discussion about House Bill 702 and its impact on our $720 million operating budget, which accounts for 42 percent of the total Metro government budget.

Earlier this week, Governor Haslam noted that he is seeking fiscal assurances from the federal government in order to prevent Medicaid expansion from bankrupting Tennessee’s budget. MNPS is simply asking for the same kind of assurances to keep the proposed state charter appeals process from destabilizing our local budget. We know you agree that a stable, predictable appeals process is in everyone’s best interest – including prospective charter operators as well as existing charter schools and traditional schools that could be affected by this measure.

Thank you for your consideration. We hope to see you Monday afternoon.

Sincerely,

Cheryl D. Mayes, Chair
Metropolitan Nashville Board of Public Education