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.

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 

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+.

Nashville’s conversation on ACT scores is misleading

With all the recent conversation about ACT scores, you would think the facts would be well established, but we keep reading ACT stories that report the same mistakes. Here are the facts.

Even though the average score in Tennessee and in Nashville remain well below what they should be — and what they will be — strong growth is happening. In Nashville, we saw big gains in the ACT this year, bigger gains than Tennessee saw as a whole. In fact, we were one of the top ten districts in the state for growth and earned 5’s—the top score—for value added. On top of that, Metro students averaged an ACT score almost a full point higher than projections.

That is huge news.

Why? These projections were made four years ago when these students were about to enter high school. That means our high school instruction has improved a great deal over the last four years.

  • Projected Mean Score: 17.49
  • Actual Mean Score: 18.43

But it’s still not good enough. We want every student to score a 21 or better on the ACT.

Let’s compare Tennessee’s average ACT score to that of Massachusetts:

  • MA – 24.1 (the highest in the nation)
  • TN – 19.7 (fourth from the bottom in the nation)

Looks pretty dim. But now let’s compare where those scores are coming from in those same two states:

  • MA – A quarter of students tested: Those headed to college who choose to take the ACT (and pay for it, study for it, etc).
  • TN – All students tested on the ACT: Everyone. Like Tennessee, the other states at the bottom of the rankings have universal testing of high schools students.

Are those playing fields level for comparison? No.

There are those who would argue that shouldn’t matter, that scores are too low in Nashville and Tennessee no matter how you look at it.

They are correct.

Every student in Tennessee takes the ACT. It’s not only used to measure our collective achievement, but it also gets them into a college mindset and assesses whether or not they are prepared for college.

That last part is where we have to do better. We have to better prepare our students for college. Anything less is a disservice to students in our schools.

Let’s go over that part again because it’s important.

No one in Metro Schools believes an 18.4 district average is acceptable. No one in Tennessee believes the 19.7 statewide average is acceptable. Anyone who thinks we are resting on the laurels of incremental score growth is wrong.

When you’re talking district-wide transformation, test scores are always the last piece to move – especially ACT scores. That’s because ACT scores measure the accumulated wealth of years of education.

The recurring obsession with ACT numbers does two things: it unfairly compares states with different populations taking the ACT and gives short shrift to the growth in student achievement and the hard work to make that happen.

The real solution is building stronger high school students who turn into stronger graduates. That starts as soon as they enter kindergarten.

Good thing, then, that we now have a district-level executive guiding instruction for K-12 as one, continuous whole. A unified vision for instruction at every grade level means elementary students will be better prepared for middle school. Middle schoolers will come to high school achieving at higher levels. And eleventh graders will score higher on the ACT.

Good thing, then, that we are moving our top experts in instruction into schools, where they can adapt and guide instruction for individual clusters, schools, classrooms and even students.

The transformation of Nashville’s public schools is ongoing and ever evolving. But it’s driven by – and has always been driven by – the same goal: across the board improvement in academic achievement for all students, by any measure.

Is the ACT important? Of course. Colleges use ACT scores for admissions decisions. Educators rely on them to assess how they are doing and how they can better prepare students for graduation.

But is it the end all, be all of the education conversation? No.

What should be the end all, be all of the education conversation? Everything leading up to the ACT.

Board of Education opposes the bill for a statewide charter authorizer

In remarks during the Feb. 12 Board of Education meeting, members expressed their strong personal opposition to the amendment to House Bill 702, which would create a statewide charter authorizer.

Here are their remarks. (They will be posted as they become available.)

Will Pinkston:

  • We knew something like this might be coming, and I think it’s regrettable.
  • The same way I think it’s important for us to listen to the State, I also think it’s important for the State to listen to us.
  • Our work is their work, and vice versa. I’m tired of the whole thing and I’d like for us to just start working together.
  • However, if the legislature, in its zeal wants to go down this path, then I am personally ready to fight over this particular issue.
  • I’ve worked in and around state government for 20 years. And my view is: This is bad policy.
  • Regardless of what anyone thinks about the basic policy of what’s being proposed — to circumvent local school boards — there are other questions about the specific approach that’s being contemplated.
  • First, I wonder if this proposal is constitutionally suspect. As recently as November, a federal judge in Shelby County took a step toward essentially voiding a state law that lifted the prohibition on new special school districts because the law applied only to Memphis and Shelby County. How the legislature thinks it can do this, on the heels of that failed policy and federal court intervention, is a little surprising.
  • Second, I wonder what — if any — precedent there might be for the State to confiscate local taxpayer dollars without the school board or the Metro Council’s consent.
  • It’s one thing for the State to drop a new policy or regulation on local jurisdictions. It’s something entirely different to take local resources without local consent. If the State wants to get in the business of running schools, have at it. But take 100% of the responsibility for it, financial and otherwise.
  • So based on this fairly unprecedented step the legislature in its “wisdom” is taking, I think we need to step back and examine our options.
  • I’m not a fan of litigation, but this is one where I think our hand is being forced and this has the potential to have long-lasting negative repercussions.
  • So Madam Chair, Dr. Register, fellow board members: I’d like to get some legal analysis sooner rather than later.

Amy Frogge:

  • We’re hearing from people who have paid a lot of money to be involved in this discussion in Tennessee. I implore the legislature to listen to those who are impacted by this bill.
  • Davidson County has a great record for high performing charter schools. We exceed the national averages in performance of charters and approval of charters. We’re open to innovation and have shown good management of charters.
  • This bill would undermine our relationships with charter schools and cause “shotgun weddings” of charter schools in our district. We need collaboration for success.
  • The only grossly under performing charter school in our district is one the state authorized outside of our control.
  • This places an undue financial burden on our city. Charters are not at capacity here.
  • This bill is a reaction to a disagreement over the quality of one charter.

Opinion Piece: Banning all virtual schools isn’t the answer

What practical effects would come from revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act? For one thing, it might actually decrease accountability for online education.

That’s the conclusion of Dr. Kecia Ray, head of Learning Technology in Metro Schools. She gave her thoughts about all the talk of banning virtual schools this week in The Tennessean.

Public virtual schools have the same accountability standards as brick-and-mortar schools. Under the current system, underperforming virtual schools are at risk of state takeover or even closure. Revoking the Tennessee Virtual Schools Act would actually allow schools to circumvent accountability by operating as virtual programs, not schools, with student achievement results sent to the student’s zoned school. This is not the transparency most desire.

Dr. Ray also gives a possible alternative to this drastic measure at the end of the piece.

To read her full opinion column, visit Tennessean.com.

You are invited: A conversation on School Vouchers

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

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

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

The League of Women Voters of Nashville

in collaboration with

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

invites you to attend

Options in Education:

School Vouchers—What Research Shows Us

Thursday, February 7, 2013

4:00 pm to 5:30 pm

The Commons Center in Room 233

Peabody Campus of Vanderbilt University

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

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

Panel

Alan Coverstone, Executive Director

Office of Innovation

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools

Dr. Claire Smrekar, Associate Professor

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

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

Department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations

Vanderbilt, Peabody College

Ten letters of intent to open charter schools in Nashville

With ten letters of intent to open charter schools here in Nashville, 2013 promises to be a big year.

We’re very excited about the level of interest shown in operating high quality charter schools in our district. Our city keeps drawing applications because of the collaborative opportunities we provide and our nationally recognized application process, which we continue to refine.

Our view is every charter school in Metro Nashville should perform above the district average. Schools approved and opened using our current process are meeting that expectation.

The possibility of opening more outstanding schools in Nashville is worth getting excited about. We look forward to seeing the completed applications this spring.

Read the letters of intent linked below to see the charter school operators now eyeing Nashville.

Name Grade Levels Beginning Grade Level Total Enrollment* Focus Sponsor
International Academy of Excellence K-4 K 400 Elementary focus with foundation in global and cultural awareness and foreign languages Beyond the Border
Nolesnville Academy for Math and Science 5-10 5-7 600 Provide a math and science focus for students primarily from minority and immigrant populations who predominately live in poverty Nolensville Academy of Math and Science
Nashville Prep II 5-8 5 440 College Prep Nashville Prep Charter School
KIPP Nashville College Prep Elementary K-4 K-1 480 College Prep KIPP Nashville
Kemet Academy PreK-8 PreK-8 250-500 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) The Teach One Foundation of TN, Inc.
Valor Collegiate Academy 5-12 5 740 College Prep Valor Collegiate Academies, Inc.
Thurgood Marshall School of Career Development 9-12 9-12 200 High achievement and support for juvenile offenders The W.E.B. DuBois Consortium of Charter Schools, Inc.
One Nashville Preparatory Academy PreK-8 PreK-K 996 College Prep and closing the achievement gap within subgroups Martha O’Bryan Center
Young Women’s Leadership Academy 5-8 5 400 Single gender female, college prep Young Women’s Leadership Academy of Nashville
Rocketship Nashville K-5 K-5 630 Combination of traditional classroom with blended learning, parent engagement and college prep Rocketship Education Tennessee

*Total enrollment means the total enrollment for a 10-year charter, not initial year enrollment.

Report: District-charter collaboration is alive & well

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

Cute, but true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

District-Charter Compact Annual Report 2012

Metro Public Charter Schools Website

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.