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

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.

Two teachers at Metro Schools named Nashvillians of the Year for 2012

Nashvillians of the Year Cover Photo

Cover courtesy of The Nashville Scene and photographer Michael W. Bunch

What a way to end 2012.

Two teachers in Metro Schools have been named Nashvillians of the Year by the Nashville Scene. Adam Taylor of Overton High School and Christina McDonald of Nashville Prep Charter School represent the teachers who “give Nashville’s schoolchildren, no matter what their background, a fighting chance to reach their brightest future.”

In a lengthy and detailed article, reporter Steven Hale lays out the bare – and sometimes forgotten – fact in our city’s current debate over education: whether charter school or district school, great teachers are at the center of great education.

It’s a great piece, and I strongly recommend you take a few moments to read the full article so you can see how teachers like Christina and Adam can bring the focus of the education discussion back where it belongs.

The Scene would like to refocus the discussion of public education not on differences and squabbles, but on the enormous asset that charter and public schools have in common: the teachers who are the most active, direct agents of hope Nashville’s children will face outside the home. As our 2012 Nashvillians of the Year, the Scene honors two such instructors: one from a charter school, Christina McDonald at Nashville Prep, and one from a traditional Metro district school, Adam Taylor at Overton High.

They are hardly alone. Space does not permit us to list the many outstanding district and charter teachers who slug it out in Nashville’s trenches throughout the school year, fighting the shared enemies of poverty, hunger, troubled home lives, behavioral problems, language barriers, bad outside influences and limited resources. But McDonald and Taylor are sterling examples of what can be accomplished by creative thinking, supportive administrators, and sheer determination. To look inside their classrooms is to see small miracles happen every day — and to see a brighter future for Nashville schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds than statistics sometimes let us hope.

Read the full article here.

What can Alan Coverstone learn about school culture from elementary students?

by Gay Burden, Manager of Innovation Design

We’ve heard it repeatedly: Students want more voice in school decisions and policy. And as we work to speed up our progress and improvements, they will definitely be heard.

Our partners at Tribal Education were the latest to bring this to our attention as they reviewed 34 of our low performing schools. They spoke extensively with students, teachers, and parents to find out what each group needs and what will help our schools serve them better.

As we looked over their reports and wrote up plans for improvement, Alan’s Lunch Bunch was born. This is a venue to give students a greater voice in their schools. Alan Coverstone, Executive Director of Innovation, sits down with a group of randomly selected students at one of our schools from the Innovation Cluster just to talk about how things are going.

So what would students do with a magic wand to create a perfect school? Every Lunch Bunch goes in a different direction. Sometimes they talk about changes to instruction, other times they talk about changes in the school culture.

This week at Napier Enhanced Option Elementary School students talked about their principal, their goals this year and what they would do if they were principal for a day.

Here are just a few things the students shared with Alan:

  • “He (Dr. Ronald Powe) is nice to us and helps us when we need it so we can learn more so we can grow up to be like him and be a principal.”
  • “When others put us down, he picks us up.”
  • “My goal is to make graduation.”
  • “My sight words are so easy, now I am ready to read real books.”
  • “If I were principal, I would compliment all of the teachers because they help all of us do the best.”

Alan learns quite a bit about the culture from each Lunch bunch.  At Napier Elementary, Alan was struck by the strong and growing relationships between the adults and students.

“It was fun to see the students excited about their school and learning,” he said, “particularly the admiration the students, teachers and staff have for the principal. Dr. Powe does a great job at making everyone feel they are contributing to the success of Napier.”

Interviewing students to get ideas about what is working or not working in a school is a great way to learn their perspectives. It is also a great way to generate ideas for new strategies or fresh approaches to initiatives focused on student learning. Ultimately, the Lunch Bunch is about building a positive community culture in our schools.

Pictures from Alan’s lunch at Napier Elementary:

Building the future of magnet schools in Nashville

by Anna Kucaj, Coordinator of Magnet Schools

It is an exciting time to work with magnet schools here in Nashville.

While magnets aren’t new to Metro Schools, we’ve recently added new ones and are developing more for the future. Two years ago we welcomed six new thematic magnet schools to the fold providing theme-based programs that engage students in STEM (Hattie Cotton, Bailey, & Stratford), museum studies (Robert Churchwell & John Early), and the entertainment industry (Pearl-Cohn).

READ MORE on thematic magnets in Metro Schools

These schools converted to magnets through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and keep us plenty busy. But we’re also gearing up to apply for the next round of funding offered by the Magnet School Assistance Program, meaning even more of our schools may offer enriching, hands-on programs like these.

Thanks to the optional schools process, we’ve had the chance to talk to students about what they like about their schools and to open our doors to parents looking to find the best fit for their children. We have also asked schools to show their interest in developing a magnet program by engaging parents, teachers, and community members in the process of identifying a theme and making a plan to serve students within their zone and across Davidson County.

It has been truly amazing to watch these groups join together and participate in conversations around new and innovative instruction that could provide even more options to Metro students and families.

Once schools have submitted their preliminary proposals, we will consult the U. S DOE guidelines and choose which schools to include in the application. We’ll work closely with those schools to develop a competitive grant application.

We believe in the theme-based magnet model. We have found that when students choose their school based on an interest in a theme, their level of engagement with the learning process increases, attendance increases, and discipline problems decline—all factors in successful schools and academic achievement.

In fact, Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School was recently named a Tennessee Reward School for being in the top 5% of schools in the entire state for annual growth.  We are exceptionally proud of the hard work of Hattie Cotton students, teachers, staff and families that made such a tremendous achievement possible.

One thing we have found as we build these new magnet programs: it’s the people involved who make the difference. We have students who come to school each morning ready to engage, teachers who participate in professional development after school and during the summer, parents who bring their child to school every day – either from across the street or across town, and partners who give of their time and resources to share their expertise.

With all of us working together, our magnet programs are becoming stronger!

A letter to parents: So you’re a Focus School. What does that really mean, anyway?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Department of Education has awarded Focus School grants to Amqui, Carter Lawrence, and Ruby Major Elementary Schools, as well as Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. These grants are worth anywhere from $100,000-300,000 and will be used to help close achievement gaps at these schools.

To learn more about these grants, visit the DOE website.


Dear Parents,

When the Tennessee Department of Education released the list of “Focus Schools” with a few MNPS schools on it, we heard from parents right away. There was some confusion and more than a little concern. Focus is a new label with a new definition, and it’s not immediately clear what it means. Some assumed it was a replacement for the old label of a High Priority or “Failing” school.

That’s not the case. The state defines Focus Schools like this:

“The 10 percent of schools in the state with the largest achievement gaps between groups of students, such as racial and ethnic groups, students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, students with disabilities and English-language learners.”

The achievement gap is a key concern of Tennessee’s new accountability system for schools and districts. MNPS wants to see all groups of students achieving at high levels, and we are making progress across the district.

Here’s what it can mean to be a Focus School:

  1. The school has high achieving students.
    The state’s own guidelines say, “Schools on the Focus list are not necessarily there because of low achievement. In fact, many showed excellent growth last year.” If your school saw big gains in all students – including those at the very top of the honor rolls – that’s a wonderful thing. But, it also means the gap between the top students and everyone else didn’t get any smaller. We need to increase all students’ achievement and close the achievement gap at the same time.
  2. The school is diverse.
    Our schools have many students with different backgrounds, different home lives, and different abilities, and they’re all held to the same standard. Some students have a great balance of support systems at home and at school to help. Some don’t. By giving schools this label, the state is asking that we “focus” part of our attention on these schools to increase achievement for all students of all abilities. That’s just what we’ll do.
  3. The school is eligible for additional financial help to close the gap.
    Again, from the state guidelines:

“Focus Schools will be eligible to apply for grants aimed at dramatically closing the achievement gap. Schools not awarded a competitive grant will be provided state resources to close their achievement gaps.”

The school labels under the new system are much more accurate and provide a fuller picture of a school than the old No Child Left Behind labels. The new labels place the focus on increasing academic performance for our schools’ highest achievers as well as on those who need the most help, so everyone achieves more.

Sincerely,

Your Metro School

Metro Nashville Public Schools is a District on the Rise

Our mission in Metro Schools is to be the first choice for families – all families. We are on our way to meeting that mission because we are a district on the rise.

Enrollment in public schools is up, at its highest levels since the mid 1970s. That’s because we’re giving Nashville more. Student test scores are up, our standing with the state is higher than it has been in years, and our students are reaching greater levels of achievement. Their hard work – along with that of teachers, administrators, and support teams – has positioned our city as a bright spot in education reform and growth. We are becoming a model of success, setting the example for districts across the country.

One reason is because we have academic rigor at the end of every yellow school bus route in Nashville.

Students are preparing for college with Advanced Placement classes, available in every high school, with even more offered through the MNPS Virtual School. The International Baccalaureate Programme at Hunters Lane and Hillsboro High Schools offers an internationally recognized diploma. The experiences students gain and the lessons they learn in the Academies of Nashville bloom far beyond the classroom, into college lecture halls and diverse career choices. Through dual enrollment with area colleges and universities, they are racking up college credits in high school, even earning associate degrees as well as diplomas.

Those classes aren’t full – yet. We have room for more students in both AP classes and the IB Programme, with even more available through our Virtual School, where students can take core subjects and nearly any AP class out there. We’re rewarding students for taking these harder, more advanced classes by changing the way grade point averages (GPAs) are calculated.  AP, IB, dual enrollment, and honors classes are now given greater weight in the GPA formula. We want all students to seek tough classes and get a leg up in college.

Neighborhood schools continue to offer broad educational choices: STEM, Montessori, Spanish immersion, Chinese language, fine and performing arts, literature, and Paideia are just a taste of the choices available from pre-kindergarten through high school, giving Nashvillians a rich educational portfolio.

These efforts have been showing big results for years – more graduates, fewer drop outs, higher test scores, more student engagement, and a place in the national conversation on education reform.

As Race to the Top proved, Tennessee is an American leader in education reform – and Nashville is at the center of it. Our educators are training others across the state in how to use the new Common Core Standards. They are leading national organizations like the National Association of Elementary School Principals and showcasing our successful programs as models for other districts to follow. Several of our high school Academies have received national awards, including five that now serve as nationwide models for other schools.

Our progress can accelerate with the continued support of our city. We are fortunate to have city leaders who believe in public schools. Families and communities work hard to support their schools through volunteering, fundraising, and parent participation. Our district needs that support to continue the steady march toward our mission.

As the conversation about public education in Nashville grows, it becomes more and more important for all of our stakeholders – parents, students, employees, taxpayers, city leaders – to see the change for themselves.  Visit your zoned schools. Talk to teachers. Talk to students. Talk with those directly affected by what happens in our classrooms.

Made up of nearly 150 exceptional schools, our district is on the cusp of greatness. We want to be the first choice for Nashville’s families.

Keeping Metro Schools Cool: A ride-along with air conditioner repair

It’s seven a.m. and trucks are already rolling out onto Murfreesboro Road, headed to schools with air conditioning problems. The storm the previous night knocked out the A/C at twelve schools, and with classrooms nearly ready to receive teachers, there are several other jobs waiting, too.

Richard Hill and his ride.

Richard Hill, who has been working with the Metro Schools HVAC team for 34 years, drives one of those trucks. He knows a lot about heating and air and has seen a lot of change in his department, his schools, and the district. His father was a plumbing foreman for Nashville Public Schools starting in the 1950s – long before “Metro” even came into the picture.

He’s headed to Julia Green Elementary School, where four A/C problems were reported that very morning. Hill has to be versatile. He’s staring at four classrooms with three different problems and three different types of units.

Hill works as part of a team, but is personally responsible for 11 schools. In all there are 14 techs like him, six more dedicated to changing air filters, two mechanics for window units, three coordinators, and two more employees to run the energy management system. That’s 27 people responsible for heating and cooling more than 13 million square feet of occupied space, changing 50,000 air filters every year, and maintaining an average of 100 pieces of HVAC equipment at every campus.

A chain reaction led to a busted fan motor.

Job number one at Julia Green is a large outside unit used for a classroom and a hallway. He opens the panel to reveal a jumble of wires, circuit boards, coils, hoses, and tanks. The problem is clear: a busted bracket led to a busted fan blade and eventually a busted fan motor. It can’t be fixed today; parts have to be ordered and pieces taken apart. With such a complicated machine, when one part breaks, others are likely to follow.

The HVAC shop runs as its own well-oiled machine with dozens of moving parts, and work orders are run through a strict priority system. First, above all else, is Harris-Hillman School. Any big problem for the exceptional education students at Harris-Hillman, many of whom are medically fragile, immediately becomes priority number one. Second are elementary schools, because younger children are much more sensitive to temperature changes. Middle and high schools rank third and fourth, respectively. They also look at the size of the issue to determine priority, with widespread problems coming out ahead of single classroom issues.

You’ll notice the offices at Bransford Avenue are not on the priority list.

Urgent calls pop up, too. Sometimes whole schools lose heat or leaks cause standing water. Those hazards are treated as emergencies, and can throw a wrench into addressing other jobs.

Hill searches for the source of a water leak.

Job number two at Julia Green is a leaky A/C unit inside a classroom. A small puddle of water has collected underneath. Hill lies down on the floor to get a good look at the cause. He can’t get to the problem without removing the whole unit from the wall. Another seemingly simple problem with a complicated solution.

With 180 buildings of varied ages, the HVAC units are widely varied, too. Renovations at Julia Green led to newer units being installed alongside older ones of completely different types. That’s typical of schools across the district. But Hill and the other techs have the know-how fix them all. They work on circulating pumps, spray pumps, cooling towers, boilers, chillers, gas packs, heat pumps, VRT units and VRV units. They replace parts and fix units in closets, in classrooms, in ceilings, in basements, on grass, and on rooftops. They know their stuff.

Job number three is a non-starter. Floor waxing is in progress and Richard doesn’t want to disrupt the work or risk messing it up.

He’s used to that, though, and takes care not to upset normal operation of the school, even stopping to pick up bits of leaves he’s tracked in from outside. He often has to work around class schedules when on the job. Teachers may want the heat or air fixed right away, but they also don’t want loud vacuum pumps to run while they’re trying to teach or groups of kindergarteners distracted by ladders reaching up into the ceiling. That’s why Hill likes closet units – he can work all day long and not interrupt instruction. He always takes instruction into account.

Hill uses his hands and ears to find the problem.

Job number four is a closet unit. He suspects there’s a leaky hose, so he feels around and listens carefully for escaping and harmless nitrogen gas. Touch and hearing are simple enough tools for a man with decades of experience.

For the past 18 months, all school maintenance requests have been made through a computerized system called ‘SchoolDude,’ which automates and streamlines the process. When a work request is made, it’s automatically sent to the relevant repair department, prioritized, and marked ‘In Progress.’ Foremen know exactly what’s going on, who’s working on what, and how many orders each school has made – ever. Request records are not erased. That way, as HVAC foreman Mike Porter puts it, “If we have an on-going issue with one particular classroom, I can do a report and see exactly what’s going on.”

That improved communication with schools helps ease the repair process and ease the nerves of teachers, principals, and parents waiting for a repair.

A reminder of why they do what they do.

No one takes this job lightly. There are stats posted on the wall of the HVAC offices showing air conditioning to be the #1 building condition to affect student achievement. The men of the HVAC crew work hard and work often – there’s even one man each week designated for 24-hour on-call duty. But they can’t control the weather and they can’t stop the requests from coming in.

“During the year, you can say we average 25-30 work orders a day,” Porter says. “When school gets ready to start, when everybody comes back in, when kids start, we’ll average 75-80 work orders a day.

“I really, truly try to do 24-hour service, but sometimes it’s just not possible. It’s just not feasible all the time.”

When it gets hot, systems work harder than normal, and some may not be big enough to handle extreme heat. That can lead to breakdowns or freeze ups. More break downs means more requests, which can mean slower service.

But no one is forgotten. All Mike Porter, Richard Hill, and the rest of the team ask for is patience while they work their way through dozens of tickets.

“People gotta realize some of this equipment is 35 years old,” Porter says. “Harris-Hillman is a perfect example. The chiller that runs that school is 35 years old. It’s set for replacement this year, finally. That capital money we got – it helps. It really does help. To be able to put that money out there, where it needs to be in schools like Harris-Hillman is a huge help. Huge help.”

There are only so many HVAC repairmen to go around, but they do get around and they never lose focus on why they do what they do. As Porter puts it, “The whole reason why we’re here and why any of us has a job is for the students.”

See more photos of HVAC repair work