Priority Schools Task Force Update – Friday, September 26, 2014

It has been a week of intense public conversation and community input. Dr. Register met with parent groups at Inglewood, Dan Mills, Kirkpatrick and Lockeland, in addition to smaller group meetings with parents and community members from across East Nashville. He also heard from the faculties at Inglewood and Kirkpatrick, and took a tour of Kirkpatrick classrooms with principal Mildred Nelson.

The community conversation is having a noticeable impact on the design process for how to turn around low performing Metro schools. At today’s taskforce meeting, Dr. Register and others opened with summaries and reflections on the input they heard this week. That started a conversation about the work the taskforce has done do far and how it can be adjusted to reflect the community’s voice.

For starters, the taskforce will now include two new committees to address priority school needs:

  • School Climate, Culture and Community Engagement
    Led by Tony Majors, chief support services officer

    • This group will look at school needs in terms of social and emotional learning, community services and involvement, discipline, attendance, recruiting and more. This area of need has always been a part of the conversation, but after the input we heard at school visits and community meetings this week, it is getting a committee of its own. This committee is expected to help schools develop plans for wrap-around services to meet student needs outside of academics.
  • Instruction and Rigorous, Engaging Curriculum
    Led by Dr. Kelly Henderson, executive director of instruction

    • This group will look closely at the curriculum offered in each priority school to find areas of need and ways to better engage students in learning. A great deal of work has been done at many schools – including the middle preps and Academies of Nashville schools – to bring more projects and hands-on experiences into the classroom. This committee will ensure each priority school is using the very best and most rigorous curriculum, with a strong eye toward instructional practices that keep students engaged.

The taskforce also heard reports from the Teaching Quality and High Quality Leadership committees.

Teaching Quality
This committee has been working hard to develop concrete proposals to:

  • Recruit great teachers
    As mentioned at the Kirkpatrick parent meeting, there is a proposal well in development to recruit 100 of the best teachers in the country to Nashville. This plan would include some cash incentives and career opportunities. There will also be a broader effort to recruit teachers on a national scale.
  • Develop existing teachers
    Rather than only use test scores and evaluations, though both are important indicators of teacher effectiveness, a team is coming together for in-person assessments of teaching and quality instruction in priority schools. This team will perform a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) followed by a series of observations called “instructional rounds.” These observations will give a fuller picture of teacher quality beyond what is found on a spreadsheet. They also bring teachers into a deep, teacher-led discussion of how to improve instruction and eliminate barriers.
  • Retain great teachers in high-need schools
    The team is also developing a plan to retain high performing teachers in the schools that need them most. Thursday at Kirkpatrick, everyone was touched by the burst of applause and appreciation given to Ms. Ward when two parents mentioned her as a transformative force for their children. We need to find a way to make sure the Ms. Wards of the world stay at their current schools. 

High Quality Leadership
The work of this committee closely mirrors that of the Teaching Quality committee, in that its members are working to determine the needs of existing principals and recruit other great leaders to Nashville.

  • Determine and provide supports for existing principals
    Each priority school principal submitted a proposal for school turn-around, including any additional needs for the school. Some of those plans are good and some are lacking. The committee has reviewed each one and helped shape a list of immediate needs to be filled. Some of these have already been filled and others are in progress.
  • Recruit and hire great leaders to Nashville
    To recruit great leaders, we first have to determine what a great leader looks like in Metro Schools. Our needs will be different than those of another urban district, so the committee identified the qualities we need in a turn-around principal. The next step is to develop a recruiting and marketing plan for a nationwide search of the very best turn-around principals. Where should we be looking and how can we find them? That is what we hope to determine. Incentives will also be offered. The hiring process would follow the same “New Leaders” process used to hire principals last summer and assess candidates against the turn-around qualities we seek.

The Student Assignment committee met to continue discussions about East Nashville choice and what that could look like. This committee is still a long way away from any concrete proposals because the community input process has just begun. But the ideas discussed today are the same ones brought up at many community meetings over the last two weeks, mostly centered around stable K-12 pathways like STEM and Paideia and how to provide transportation to every student who makes a choice.

Taskforce meetings will continue next week, as will parent and community meetings. The community meetings are:

  • Tuesday, September 30 – Jere Baxter Middle
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 1 – Napier Elementary School
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
    Napier will serve dinner to its families at 5:00 p.m.

Lastly, we will soon announce the formation of an advisory committee that will meet regularly and offer substantive input as the plan for low performing schools and East Nashville choice comes together. The committee will include teachers, parents and community members from schools, neighborhoods and other stakeholder groups. Look for those details in the coming days.

Task Force Members

Dr. Jesse Register, Director of Schools
Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer
Dr. Alan Coverstone, Executive Officer for Innovation
Dr. Vanessa Garcia, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools
Dr. Antoinette Williams, Executive Officer for Middle Schools
Dr. Michelle Wilcox, Executive Officer for High Schools
Dr. Dottie Critchlow, Executive Officer for Instructional Support
Kevin Stacy, Director of English Learners
Dr. Kelly Henderson, Executive Director of Instruction
Tony Majors, Chief Support Services Officer
Alvin Jones, Executive Director of Student Services
Gini Pupo-Walker, Director of Family and Community Partnerships
Dr. Paul Changas, Executive Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation
Susan Thompson, Chief Human Capital Officer
Katie Cour, Executive Director of Talent Strategy
Shannon Black, Director of Talent Management
Shirene Douglas, Director of Talent Acquisition
Craig Ott, Executive Director of Human Capital Operations
Clarissa Zellars, Director of School Improvement Strategies
Chris Weber, Director of Student Assignment
Ryan Latimer, Coordinator fo Enrollment Forecasting in Student Assignment
Representatives from Transportation, on behalf of Taffy Marsh
Hank Clay, Government Relations
Olivia Brown, Director of Communications
Joe Bass, Communications Specialist

Tell us what you think of the 2014-15 district calendar

Two years ago we came to you with an idea to change the school calendar in a pretty big way.  We wanted more balance between blocks of school days and breaks. That meant starting school on August 1, giving us extra days throughout the year to benefit students, and shortening summer break to reduce the gap in instruction from one school year to the next.

Last year we used those extra days for intersession, just like we’ll do this year. Intersession is an opportunity for students to extend learning beyond what they could get in regular classroom time. In order to be truly successful, it requires funding to match its ambitions.

That did not happen. Cuts to federal funding meant we could not serve as many students as we’d hoped. While we are pleased overall with how intersession went in its pilot year and heard good reports from participating families, lack of transportation and limited funding for programs meant most students did not take advantage of it.

Intersession fills a need and want for many families. But it is just one element of a balanced school calendar. We are now exploring alternative ways to extend the school year, including one that benefits all students.

A calendar committee that included parents, principals, administrators and employee union members developed these recommendations for the board of education. In all options:

  • The first day of school is August 1
  • The last day of school is May 28
  • The 2014 summer break is nine weeks long

The options for the 2014-15 district calendar are:

  • Option #1
    Consistent with the current calendar, this option has two intersession periods in October and March. This option is cost neutral.

    • 175 regular instructional days
    • four days each in October and March that could be used either for intersession or an extended break
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days for teacher planning and professional development
    • five days built in for inclement weather
  • Option #2
    This calendar essentially turns intersession days into regular school days and more professional development days for teachers. This option would cost an additional $20-21 million for the added days.

    • 180 regular instructional days
    • nine days for teacher professional development (including four from local funds)
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days built in for inclement weather

Option #1 is a good calendar. It served us well last year and will serve us well this year, too. The intersession periods give us the opportunity to reach as many students as we can for enrichment and remediation without additional funds. Given the current economic situation, we do not know what intersession could look like in 2014-15, but we will do our utmost to make it valuable to Nashvillians.

Option #2 is our preferred option. We want to add more time in the classroom for all students so we meet the national standard of 180 instructional days. Further, we want to ensure that time is quality time in the classroom by providing our teachers time for professional learning and growth throughout the year. As a result it gives teachers ten additional paid workdays in the year.

The final decision on which calendar to use falls to the Board of Education, but we want to know what you think. Which calendar would you prefer?

See all calendar options.

Send your feedback to
MNPSCommunications@mnps.org

Come to our public discussion on
July 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
in the MNPS Board Room.

Defend the Dream: All students deserve the chance to be educated

We believe in the best education possible for all students. We believe every student is capable of reaching college and finding success as a lifelong learner.

But many bright students in Metro Schools are left behind and counted out of a full education through no fault of their own. Undocumented students, brought to this country by their parents, want to be educated.

They are left to be dreamers, imagining what it could be like if higher education were in their future. Some even drop out of high school because they don’t see how a diploma will make a difference when most college and employment opportunities are closed to them.

That’s why the Board of Education has gone on record as supporting immigration reform.

As elected officials in Washington debate immigration reform, we hope you’ll remember these dreamers. We need to open access to our educational systems to them so all Americans can benefit.

Write to Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

Contact Tennessee’s U.S. Representatives

As one of the most diverse school districts in the country, we know why immigration reform is important to the future of our community, our schools and especially our kids.

Students here without proper documentation worry about their security, whether they will be separated from their families, how long they’ll be able to attend school and their future opportunities.

When it comes time for college, these students are left behind. In Tennessee, undocumented students pay three times the normal in-state tuition to attend state schools, even if they have lived here since infancy. Scholarships and financial aid are also out of reach.

See the challenges faced by many immigrant students on the road to graduation.

Write to Tennessee’s U.S. Senators and Representatives. Tell them you support giving undocumented students a chance at building a future in our country. Tell them to support immigration reform.

Your Support Helps Improve Your Schools

Here are some quick facts about our school district:

  • Number of Buildings: 180
  • Indoor Square Footage: 14 million
  • Typical Age of Buildings: 42 years

With so much space to care for – and with ages varying from 100 years old to one – it’s no wonder we have a lot of capital needs. Older schools need to be repaired, improved, expanded and modernized. Growing neighborhoods need new buildings to accommodate all those new families. We need new school buses and long-term technology infrastructure.

There’s a lot to be done.

For the 2012-13 school year, we received $100 million in capital funding. Over the past six years we have received about $300 million. That is wonderful. We appreciate the support for our schools.

We need about $100 million every year to address the many needs in our schools. To make progress against the backlog of projects, we will need strong and sustained support from the community. We will need full capital funding every year. That happens when our communities show support for school projects, urging decision makers to give schools what they need and deserve.

See some of the biggest areas of need in Metro Schools:

This year we requested $159 million from the city to address urgent capital needs, including school renovations and expansions, school buses and technology. The projects in that request included adding classrooms to elementary schools in South Nashville, replacing Tusculum Elementary and Goodlettsville Middle, renovating aging East Nashville schools and bringing new elementary schools to Antioch and 12South.

The Mayor has recommended about $95 million in capital funding for this year. We know the city faces competing demands on its budget, and that ours aren’t the only infrastructure needs in Nashville. The Metro Council has to make tough decisions about which projects to fund.

While we’re very grateful for any funding, the gap of almost $70 million means some projects expected for 2013-14 will be delayed, and that causes a ripple effect in our capital projects plan. Every year’s delay is another year school communities will wait to see their school’s capital needs met.

Consider this fact:

  • Total Cost of Capital Projects Through 2019: $1.19 billion

This isn’t money for administration or pay raises or textbooks. This is money to keep our buildings proper learning environments for children. Visit one of the schools on our capital master plan and you will see clearly: the needs of the school district are real needs. Investments in our children’s places of learning are investments in the future of Nashville. They benefit our children, they attract new residents and businesses and they have lasting effects on our city’s future.

We cannot improve them without a strong commitment to improvement from our community. That begins with you. Metro Council will vote on the city’s capital budget tomorrow: Tuesday, June 11. Call or email your council representative and ask them to support our schools’ capital requests. Without their support, students will have to wait longer and longer for the school buildings they deserve.

How bad is the overcrowding in Antioch’s elementary schools? See for yourself.

Lakeview Elementary School currently has ten portables on campus. They have requested another seven portables for next year. If approved, these seventeen (17!) portables would house 280 students.

Take a look at what the Lakeview campus looks like this year:

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Imagine seven more portables in those pictures. It doesn’t look good, nor does it serve students the way they deserve. In the next few years Lakeview will inch closer and closer to 1,000 students in a building meant to serve only 650.

Something needs to be done to help Lakeview students and families. And it needs to be done now.

That’s why we need to start right now by approving the purchase of a piece of land on Smith Springs Road. It’s ideally located to relieve overcrowding at Lakeview and nearby Thomas Edison Elementary. The longer we delay, the worse it gets for families at Lakeview and Thomas Edison.

If we started the process right now, it would still take until the fall of 2015 to open the doors on a new school because of standard planning and construction times. We can’t afford any more delays.

Contact your Metro Council Members TODAY and ask them to vote to purchase the land. We need to start planning for this school, and we can’t do that until we own the land.

  • Email all Council Members using this email address (councilmembers@nashville.gov) or go to the Council website to find your district’s representative.
  • Make phones ring in support of needed schools in Antioch. All Council Members’ phone numbers can be found on the Council website. Here’s how to contact Antioch area and at-large Council Members:

Robert Duvall
District 33
robert.duvall@nashville.gov
862-6780

Jacobia Dowell
District 32
jacobia.dowell@nashville.gov
731-3177

Fabian Bedne
District 31
(habla español)
fabian.bedne@nashville.gov
829-6226

Karen Johnson
District 29
karen.johnson@nashville.gov
977-6721

Duane Dominy
District 28
duane.dominy@nashville.gov
862-6780

Megan Barry
At-large
megan.barry@nashville.gov
480-3008

Ronnie Steine
At-large
ronnie.steine@nashville.gov
862-6780

Tim Garrett
At-large
tim.garrett@nashville.gov
859-1047

Charlie Tygard
At-large
charlie.tygard@nashville.gov
256-7146

Jerry Maynard
At-large
jerry.maynard@nashville.gov
862-6780

Myth vs. Fact: Building a new school for Antioch

MYTH
There are no elementary age students in the area.

FACTS
Lakeview and Thomas Edison Elementary Schools are overcrowded. Right now Lakeview serves nearly 900 students in a building meant for 650. Overcrowded schools mean portables, large classes and increased difficulty serving students in a building and grounds designed for fewer children.

There’s no denying it. These schools are packed to the rafters and need relief. On top of that, the Antioch area is the fastest growing in the city. We currently have six projects in the planning stages for adding classrooms to this area of Davidson County, and the demand keeps growing.

The need is clearly there, but what about this specific school? What sort of impact would it have?

In the proposed (not final) zone for a new elementary school on Smith Springs Road, there are 400 elementary age students currently attending Lakeview and Thomas Edison. That doesn’t count students in optional schools or students who will reach elementary age before the school is built.

The immediate impact of a new school opening right now on Smith Springs Road would be 400 fewer students at Lakeview and Thomas Edison. In the two years it would take for the school to open, that number will be much larger.

Ask teachers at Lakeview or Edison and they will tell you: that means welcome and sweet relief from a serious overcrowding issue.

MYTH
The school would cause major traffic problems on Smith Springs Road.

FACTS
We never build or renovate or expand without considering the impact on traffic. We commissioned a traffic study from an independent civil engineer who graded different areas of Smith Springs Road an A-F scale. Separate grades are given for different times of day to give a complete picture of traffic throughout the day.

As it is now, the road rates A’s and B’s. There is one C, given to the intersection at Smith Springs and Anderson Road during morning rush hour.

Existing Traffic Study - Resized

Looking into the future when an elementary school sits on the property, traffic doesn’t look much different. There are a few more areas rated C, but added delays would not be significant.

Projected Traffic Study - Resized

Any development on this property would have an impact on traffic. It’s a large piece of land with just two houses on it. No matter what this land becomes in the future, it will bring more traffic with it. But we believe strongly in respecting and enhancing the neighborhoods we serve. We want to minimize the impact. That’s why our plan calls for installing turn lanes in front of each school entrance. We also plan to build sidewalks all along the property line on Smith Springs Road.

Ordinarily we would connect those sidewalks with the city sidewalk system, but there are no city sidewalks in this neighborhood. The Metro Planning Commission has recommended sidewalks be installed on Smith Springs Road. That recommendation is before the Metro Council right now.

MYTH
There are other properties better suited for a new school.

FACTS
There aren’t. This is the best available property for our needs. Here’s why.

Picking a site for a new school is a long and complex process. A lot of thought goes into choosing just the right spot. The property on Smith Springs Road fits several key criteria for a new school:

  1. It sits in the middle of a high-need area. We need more classrooms in this area, and this site is well suited to provide them.
  2. It’s available. This is surprisingly important. In an area that’s seeing a lot of development (like Antioch), it can sometimes be tough to find an available property at the right price.
  3. It’s already well-suited for construction. We need our property to be relatively flat and easily accessible to families. This property isn’t filled with hills and rises. In other words, it won’t require a million dollars worth of digging before construction can begin.
  4. It’s in close proximity to all needed utilities. This includes water and sewer, which can be expensive if not already present. It also comes with the needed water pressure for fire services, which can also be expensive to make from scratch.

There was one other piece of property on Smith Springs Road that looked promising, but it was much smaller and would have been more difficult and costly to develop.

Some have suggested the former Starwood site as a perfect location for an elementary school. In theory this isn’t a bad idea. But in reality it’s a long way from ideal.

To start with, that property is directly across the street from Mt. View Elementary School. It doesn’t make sense to build one elementary school right next to another one. How do you draw the zones? Why build a new school where one exists already? In addition, it’s too far away from where it’s needed most: Priest Lake.

We didn’t make this choice lightly. School site selection is a long and involved process that looks a lot of different factors. This property on Smith Spring Road checked off all of those factors better than any available property in the area.

MYTH
New schools would reduce property values.

FACTS
New schools on Smith Springs Road would add public green space, community meeting space, ball fields and playgrounds to the neighborhood. They would also bring high-quality education to the neighborhood in brand new facilities.

Neighborhood schools add value to their communities.

MYTH
Metro Parks wants to buy the property for a new public park, but can’t because we want to build a school.

FACTS
This is not true.

While Metro Parks officials expressed interest in the property years ago, they currently have no plans to pursue it. Parks Director Tommy Lynch personally assured us of this fact. Any rumor to the contrary is completely untrue.

MYTH
This decision was made with no community input or consultation with the city.

FACTS
There were several community meetings when the district developed its 10-year student assignment plan for the area, which was approved in 2010. See the website for more information in Spanish and English.

Our planning teams met with the Planning Commission more than a year ago to review this specific site. They have also met with Metro Public Works to look at the plan. The appropriate parties were consulted at every stage of the planning process and will continue to be.

Our Board members have held two public community meetings on this issue open to all neighbors and Council Members.

MYTH
We want to immediately build two schools – one elementary and one middle.

FACTS
Our immediate plans call for a new elementary school. The Antioch area badly needs a new middle school, as well, but that is not in our immediate plans.

We do plan to work with Metro Public Works to address neighborhood infrastructure needs in anticipation of a new middle school in the future.

The property is well suited for both an elementary and a middle school. We prefer to buy property that can serve both tiers, as we have done for A.Z. Kelley Elementary / Thurgood Marshall Middle and Shayne Elementary / Oliver Middle.

You can help relieve overcrowding in Antioch schools!

Visit Lakeview Elementary School and you will notice one thing right away: portables. Lakeview has 10 portables on its campus because it is serving nearly 900 students in a building designed for 650. Within the next five years it’s expected to hit 141% of its building capacity.

The situation looks very similar at Thomas Edison Elementary just three miles away. Thomas Edison was built in 2004, but already it’s at 112% of its building capacity with more than 700 students.

How did it get this way?

Antioch is one of the fastest growing areas in Nashville. The need for new classrooms is here right now and can only get more pressing in the coming years.

Click to see where the proposed site lies in relation to homes and existing schools.

Click to see where the proposed site lies in relation to homes and existing schools.

What’s the solution? 

Situated north of both Lakeview and Thomas Edison, on the other side of several housing developments and subdivisions, is a piece of property on Smith Springs Road by Percy Priest Lake that could be the future home of a new Metro elementary school.

If this school were to open right now, it would enroll some 400 students who live nearby and currently attend Lakeview and Thomas Edison. If it opens – as we hope it will – in the fall of 2015, it could be home to up to 800 neighborhood students.

Why this property?

As explained above, the property is located in an ideal spot. It’s not too close to existing schools, but very close to students who need schools. It’s close to utilities and already well suited for construction without needing excessive grading and site preparation. The property owners are willing to sell the property to the school system.

We feel like it’s a great site for an elementary school and, eventually, a middle school that is also badly needed in that area.

So what can we do?

While we’re optimistic that we can build a new elementary school on this property, it’s not a done deal just yet. Metro Council already approved the money to purchase this land as part of the Metro capital budget last year, but now Metro Council must now approve the actual purchase.

You can help relieve the overcrowding in Antioch schools by supporting the purchase of this land. Write to your Council representative and tell him or her that you support building a new neighborhood school in Antioch on Smith Springs Road.

Write all Council Members at once using this email address:

CouncilMembers@nashville.gov

Write Antioch-area Council Members:

Robert Duvall
District 33
robert.duvall@nashville.gov

Jacobia Dowell
District 32
jacobia.dowell@nashville.gov

Fabian Bedne
District 31
fabian.bedne@nashville.gov

Karen Johnson
District 29
karen.johnson@nashville.gov

Duane Dominy
District 28
duane.dominy@nashville.gov

Write At-large Council Members:

Megan Barry
megan.barry@nashville.gov

Ronnie Steine
ronnie.steine@nashville.gov

Tim Garrett
tim.garrett@nashville.gov

Charlie Tygard
charlie.tygard@nashville.gov

Jerry Maynard
jerry.maynard@nashville.gov