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+.

Metro Schools shifts authority, resources to schools to accelerate improvement

Lead principals to expand to all schools over three years, central office to shrink 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Jan. 23, 2013) – Lead principals who oversee several schools in addition to their own will have an expanded role in Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools under a new organizational plan Dr. Jesse Register, director of schools, shared in a public event today in the district’s central office. Each lead principal will work with five or six other principals in a network and will be responsible for increasing student achievement, evaluating principals and sharing effective practices across their network of schools.

Register also announced changes to his executive staff and promised changes to middle management through the end of June when the current fiscal year ends.

“The key element of the plan is to take to scale the position of lead principal over the next three years so we move resources and authority closer to students and accelerate achievement. This is a natural progression of the work we have been doing over the past few years, most recently with the Tribal Education Group consultants,” Register said. “With this approach, we will keep the most highly skilled principals in schools rather than promoting them out, expand their scope of influence to multiple schools and give them ongoing leadership training.”

Lead principals will be selected based on qualifying criteria that include test data, leadership skills and teacher input. Lead principals will have increased autonomy including final say on all staffing and the flexibility to organize instructional and support staff. They will also have school-based budgeting autonomy so funds can be used flexibly within fiscal guidelines.

There will be nine lead principals for the remainder of this school year, with 18 projected for 2013-14 when all high schools will be part of a lead principal network, 25 planned for 2014-15 with all middle schools participating, and 30 in 2015-16 with all elementary schools in networks.  Numbers may vary by one or two lead principals each year. As the lead principal ranks increase, the central office will shrink,

Register also announced his new executive leadership team to include Fred Carr, chief operating officer; Chris Henson, chief financial officer; Tony Majors, chief support services officer and Meredith Libbey, special assistant to the director for communications. Jay Steele will be part of the team in the newly-created position of chief academic officer as will Susan Thompson as the chief human capital officer.

SEE the New Master Organizational Chart

The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and philanthropist Steve Turner worked with Register to recruit Steele to Metro Schools from Florida in late 2009. During Steele’s tenure as associate superintendent for high schools, the district’s graduation rate has climbed steadily; the Academies of Nashville college and career readiness program has expanded to every zoned high school and earned national recognition for excellence. Steele has worked to increase academic rigor in high schools and has expanded the district’s Advanced Placement Scholars program, reinvigorated the International Baccalaureate Programme and launched the Cambridge University AICE (Advanced International Certificate of Education) program. The district is among Tennessee’s top 10 districts for ACT composite score growth for 2012 and over three years.

The exceptional education and English learner departments, under the continued leadership of Dr. Linda DePriest, and the iZone schools, under Alan Coverstone, will report to Jay Steele as will the executive officer for elementary schools, Brenda Steele. This ensures every student and every school will be part of a rigorous instructional continuum.

Thompson has responsibility for recruiting, retaining and developing teachers and staff and for human resources operations. A lifelong educator, she joined the district in 2012. She has experience as a teacher, school and central office administrator and national consultant. Most recently, she worked with low-performing schools across the state of Texas to increase student achievement. Thompson has made changes to the human capital function, formerly known as human resources:

Katie Cour has joined the district as the executive director of talent strategies from Education First Consulting where she was a senior consultant. Previously a senior legislative research analyst with the office of education accountability in the State of Tennessee’s comptroller’s office, she has additional experience working with nonprofit organizations.

Sheila Armstrong is promoted to the director of classification, compensation and human resource information systems. She joined the district in 2012 with more than 20 years’ experience in human resources, most recently with St. Thomas Hospital and Ascension Health Services.

Craig Ott is the executive director of human resources operations. Ott joined the district from Sumner County Schools in 2011 and has a wealth of experience in human resources in both education and corporate settings.

Dr. Lora Hall, most recently the associate superintendent for middle schools, will be the district’s university liaison with responsibility for working with higher education to develop effective teaching programs and new teachers with the goal of putting the best in Metro Schools’ classrooms.

“Susan Thompson has put together a first-rate team. Katie Cour has been a value consultant in our schools and we are delighted to have her expertise in house now. In their short time here, Sheila Armstrong and Craig Ott have already made important contributions. Dr. Lora Hall brings valuable experience as a teacher, principal and district leader to the university liaison role,” said Register. “She knows the district, what it takes to be an outstanding teacher and principal and will be a tremendous addition to our human capital team.”

Register also announced the district’s data resources have been brought together under the leadership of Fred Carr, chief operating officer.

“With this change we will have our data warehouse; research, assessment and evaluation; and technology support under one roof,” said Register. “Each of these functions has a strong leader—Laura Hansen, Dr. Paul Changas and John Williams, respectively–and supports student performance in multiple ways.”

Metro Schools’ strong relationships with Metro Police and other emergency personnel will be even stronger with a new director of security. The district plans to hire an experienced law enforcement professional who will ensure the district and emergency personnel have consistent approaches to security and emergency preparedness.

“School security and other student services departments have been re-aligned under Tony Majors to ensure they work more closely with principals and the security department,” said Register. “We will have effective interdepartmental collaboration to provide the social services our students’ needs in a secure setting.”

The changes announced today are effective immediately.

 

It’s Official: Metro Nashville Public Schools rates “Intermediate” status

District meets seven of nine benchmarks; student achievement grows

Metro Nashville Public Schools showed growth in achievement among all subgroups of students last year, placing the district in intermediate status – the second highest accountability category. The State Department of Education earlier today released district-level status for all Tennessee districts, including for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Under this new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are “Exemplary” while the bottom performing districts are in two “In Need of Improvement” categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category. Tennessee’s new accountability system replaces No Child Left Behind’s Annual Yearly Progress measures. Rather than expecting all districts to meet the same benchmarks year after year, the new system acknowledges that districts are starting from different places and rewards those that show the most growth. Under the new system, approximately 43% of districts were categorized as “In Need of Improvement” or “In Need of Subgroup Improvement.”

“These results show that thousands more of our students are performing at a higher level,” said Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register. “Tennessee standards are among the highest in the country and this new accountability system is real, it is holding districts to standards that are difficult but attainable.

“The growth we have seen this year is the result of a lot of hard work, of making changes to instructional practice, providing more professional development and meeting our students’ diverse needs. We want to accelerate that growth at all levels and close achievement gaps.”

The accountability system, adopted after Tennessee secured a waiver from part of NCLB earlier this year, looks to districts to increase achievement levels for all students and reduce achievement gaps that exist between certain groups. Metro Schools serves approximately one-third of the state’s English Learner students, as well approximately 12,000 Students with Disabilities. The district also serves more than 56,000 economically disadvantaged students, which is about 71% of total enrollment for last year.

Metro Schools’ students made significant academic progress in the 2011-12 school year and the district met the majority of Tennessee’s academic achievement targets. In 2010, Tennessee adopted new academic performance standards that are among the most demanding in the nation. Metro Schools have shown steady improvement against these higher standards.

Grade 3-8 TCAP Tests
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011 2012 
Reading/Language Arts 33.9% 38.9% 42.1% 
Math 25.9% 32.2% 38.4%
Science 36.2% 38.8%  44.5%
High School End of Course Exams
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011  2012 
Algebra I 28.7% 37.6% 41.8%
English II 47.4% 46.6%  48.7% 

In addition, the district made impressive improvement at every grade level on the TCAP writing assessment with nine out of ten middle and high school students scoring competent or better.

Writing Assessment
Competent or Higher
  2010 2011  2012 
Grade 5  77% 77% 81% 
Grade 8 86% 86% 90%
Grade 11 90% 88%  91%

With this new system, Metro Schools met seven of nine benchmarks. The district showed improvement but narrowly missed the set benchmark for third grade reading/language arts. The district also missed in the graduation rate, the one calculation that has a one-year lag. The state has changed its calculation of graduation rate from a 5-year calculation to a 4-year calculation. Many students served by Metro Schools, such as English Learners or Students with Disabilities, require five years to graduate and are not included in the district’s overall graduation rate. Last year, Metro Schools’ graduation rate was 76.2%, down from 82.9% under the 5-year calculation. The 2012 graduation rate is not available.

Under Tennessee’s new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are exemplary while the bottom performing districts are in two in need of improvement categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category.

“I appreciate the support of our Board of Education as we transform our district. We knew test scores would be the last thing to change and we are pleased to see this growth,” said Register. “We must continue to improve in all categories. Reducing the achievement gap among student groups is our most significant challenge.”

Individual student reports are in transit to the schools where students are assigned for the 2012-13 school year. Each school will send the reports home to families. The State of Tennessee has not yet released school-level data.

Letter to the State Board of Education: Uphold our Great Hearts denial

We respectfully, but strongly disagree with the recommendation of Dr. Nixon and believe that it oversteps legitimate authority to review charter decisions by local boards of education (TCA 49-13-108(a)(3)).

TCA 49-13-108(a)(3) states that the state board’s decision to remand must be based on “objective reasons.” The main reason given for remanding the decision (that MNPS did not follow our own policies/process) is factually incorrect. MNPS did follow all written policies regarding the role of the review committee and the Office of Innovation. Because Dr. Nixon’s decision was based on a false premise, this decision does not meet the “objective reasons” standard. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation relies on mischaracterization of the published review process. The process in its entirety is aligned with NACSA Principals and Standards and is followed by the Achievement School District.

Left unaddressed are the statements by Great Hearts that they cannot open a school in 2013 and that “in an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said” (Tennessean, July 5, 2012). Since the application cycle for schools to open in 2014 is not held until April of 2013, action to remand for approval pre-judges and future application. TN Charter Law 49-13-107(b) states: “On or before October 1 of the year preceding the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation, the sponsor seeking to establish the public charter school shall prepare and file with the chartering authority an application…”

This recommendation has been issued two years prior to “the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation.” It remands a school proposal for approval that has not yet been through the proper application cycle for schools that will open in 2014. We welcome this application through our regular review process at our 2014 application deadline of April 1, 2013.

The recommendation validates three substantial and objective reasons for denial as important to the best interests of students, the district, and the community and affirms that the school should not be opened unless and until these reasons can be overcome.

  1. The recommendation requires the school to employee certified teachers. The application says it will be impossible to maintain the quality teacher pipeline they use in Phoenix if such a requirement is made.
  2. The recommendation limits the school to opening a single site. The application says they will be unable to execute their business plan without a guarantee of five schools.
  3. The recommendation requires a diversity plan using the “blind, lottery process” that MNPS uses in its choice schools. This is the process that the applicant claims to use in Phoenix, and the resulting segregation is unacceptable.
Demographics  of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

Demographics of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

The Great Hearts application went through the same review process, using the same standards as four other charter schools that were approved this year. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to find the district acted contrary to its best interests, those of the students, or the community it serves. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation replaces a thoughtful, transparent and rigorous review with a less thorough, less effective process. It also penalizes local, elected school boards for seeking to hear from all sides in making important decisions.

We respect Dr. Nixon and appreciate the gravity of the challenge he faces in trying to evaluate a three month process on the basis of a 1-hour hearing and a mountain of documents filed less than 24 hours before his recommendation was due. Deciding the case under such constraints, it is difficult to make a clear-eyed assessment of the facts.

If the recommendation disagreed with the reasons for denial instead of validating them, there might be a reason for the state board to intervene. Accepting this recommendation does substantial damage to the accountability relationship with the authorizer that lies at the very heart of the charter school bargain (autonomy for accountability).

Based on the recommendation affirming our objective reasons for denial, we sincerely hope that you will vote to maintain the balance of decision-making authority that this opinion threatens to upend.

Sincerely,

Jesse Register

Peabody Education Dean supports our plan for raising teacher pay

The Dean of Education at America’s number one school for teachers has given a whole-hearted endorsement of the Metro Schools plan to raise starting teacher pay.

In an open letter to Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, Dean Camilla Benbow of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University said she supports Metro Schools increasing the starting pay for teachers. The proposed salary schedule has starting teachers making $40,000, existing teachers receiving raises ranging from 1.9% to 8.2%, and all teachers reaching the top levels of pay in just 15 years rather than 25. This endorsement joins one from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

You can read the full letter below, or click the link at the bottom of this post to see the letter itself.

If you’d like to join Dean Benbow in supporting the starting teacher pay increase, you can show your support by writing or calling the Metro Council and by coming to Council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 5.

Dear Dr. Register,

I am writing you in support of the MNPS effort to increase the starting salary of Nashville Public School teachers.

While teachers unions, policy-makers and the public can find much to disagree on when it comes to how to pay teachers, there’s little disagreement when it comes to the simple matter of a threshold, starting salary. A higher starting salary attracts more candidates and allows a district to be more selective in its hiring practices. This translates to more effective teachers for Nashville’s students. As you know, Peabody College prepares teachers drawn from a national pool of applicants. These students enter Vanderbilt with SAT scores far higher than what is typical  among schools of education nationwide. Based on their potential, it is certainly in Nashville’s interest to encourage these prospective teachers to remain here to begin their teaching careers. But at less than $35,000, the current MNPS starting salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree is lower than the national average (approximately $37,500 in 2009-10 dollars), and well below the starting salaries in many of the urban areas from which our students come. We would love for more of our students to stay in Nashville and contribute to education in our community.

Polling data that Vanderbilt collected last fall suggest that the public would also be supportive of high starting salaries. Of 1,423 Tennesseans polled, 71 percent said that public school teachers in Tennessee were underpaid. Respondents ranked education as the No. 2 priority for state government. Perhaps now is the opportune time to initiate a salary increase.

Finally, I would add that not only would a higher starting salary help with teacher recruitment, it is also likely to help with retention. With nearly half of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, a high starting salary, or increases in salary for early career teachers, may incentivize some to stay. Similarly, shortening the amount of time required for teachers to reach the top of the salary scale will enable MNPS to retain more of its experienced teacher workforce.

In short, we support MNPS’s proposal to increase teacher salaries. A favorable outcome is in the interest of Nashville’s children.

Sincerely,

Camilla Benbow
Patricia and Rodes Dean of Education and Human Development

See the Letter of Support from Peabody Dean Camilla Benbow

Mayor Dean, Dr. Register show us why Southeast Davidson County schools need capital improvements

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register took Mayor Karl Dean and other city and district officials on a tour of a few of the schools in Southeast Davidson County that would receive much needed renovations and expansions under the $100 million capital improvement plan for MNPS.
Capital Improvements Map
The first stop was Oliver Middle School, just eight years old but already 100 students over capacity and in need of more classrooms. The plan for Oliver is to add 12 classrooms to replace its seven portables currently housing sixth grade classes, art, chorus, and Encore.

The story was the same at nearby A.Z. Kelley Elementary: built in 2006, Kelley is 100 students over capacity and in need of ten new classrooms. Parents present at the tour told reporters they support the Mayor’s plan to for a property tax adjustment in order to pay for expansions at this school and others. The Cane Ridge and Antioch areas are among the fastest growing in the county, and schools need to expand along with the population.

While at A.Z. Kelley, Mayor Dean and Dr. Register joined students for lunch in the cafeteria.

The tour then took them to Antioch Middle School. Antioch is in dire need of improvements and renovations. The HVAC, lighting, electrical, and plumbing systems all need major upgrades. Many of the windows are original to the building – from 1948 – and are drafty and crumbling at the edges. The school also needs new flooring in many areas, a new roof, adjustments to ceiling height, and a litany of other repairs and upgrades.

The last stop was Norman Binkley Elementary, where teachers have named a section of the campus “Portable City” because of the 11 portables that house the entire fourth grade class, art and music. The main building at Norman Binkley is also in need of repairs, including replacing the original steam radiators used for heat.

These four schools are among the ten schools that would receive significant capital investment under the Mayor’s budget proposal. The plan also includes money to purchase land for new elementary and middle schools in Southeast Nashville.

How are capital projects chosen and prioritized?

In order to see this plan pass, the Metro Council must pass the budget and an adjustment to the county’s property tax. To voice your opinion on this issue, contact your Council Member.

Below is a detailed list and cost of the projects planned for these four schools. 


Henry Oliver Middle School
($3.6 million) 

6211 Nolensville Road, Nashville
Original Construction: 2004 (expansion needed due to growth in zone)
Enrollment: 804  Capacity: 707
Grades Served: 5-8

  • This project includes new construction for an additional 12 classrooms and minor revisions to the existing building at the location of the addition.
  • Oliver Middle has seven portables, which house sixth-grade classrooms, Arts classes, the Chorus program, and the high-academic program called Encore.

A.Z. Kelley Elementary School
($2.65 million) 

5834 Pettus Road, Antioch
Original Construction: 2006 (expansion needed due to growth in zone)
Enrollment: 561  Capacity: 665
Grades Served: PK-4

  • This project includes new construction for an additional 10 classrooms and minor revisions to the existing building at the location of the addition.
  • A.Z. Kelley Elementary has four portables. In past years, it has had as many as 10, and due to growth in zone, will likely need additional portables next year.

Antioch Middle School
($11 million) 

5050 Blue Hole Road, Antioch
Oldest remaining construction: 1948; additions 1950, 1954, 1955, 1956, 1959, 1963, 1969, 1972; renovation 1999
Enrollment: 461
Grades Served: 5-8

  • Antioch Middle has six portables.
  • Renovation of Antioch Middle would include
    • new finishes – paint, ceilings, floorings
    • major upgrade to HVAC and improvements to electrical, lighting and plumbing systems
    • replace exterior windows
    • new entry vestibule at main entrance
    • revised kitchen area
    • revised administrative area
    • repair or replace roof
    • modify drive to separate car and bus traffic
    • comply with ADA, current building codes and LEED

Norman Binkley Elementary School
($6.5 million)

4700 West Longdale Drive, Nashville
Original Construction: 1960; additions 1961, 1963; 2007
Enrollment: 475  Capacity: 356
Grades Served: PK-4

  • Norman Binkley Elementary currently has 11 portables, which house the fourth grade class, Art, and Music
  • Renovation to Norman Binkley Elementary would include:
    • New construction to provide for improved art, music, library, and kitchen spaces
    • New construction to provide for improved administrative spaces
    • New finishes, paint, ceilings, flooring
    • Major upgrade to HVAC (replace original steam radiators) and improvements to electrical, lighting and plumbing systems.
    • Replace exterior windows
    • New entry vestibule at main entrance
    • Site lighting upgrades.
    • Comply with ADA (repair or replace chair lift), current building codes and LEED.