How implementing Common Core State Standards has changed my classroom

by Cicely Woodard, 8th grade math & Honors Algebra I teacher at Rose Park Middle Magnet

Since implementing Common Core State Standards in my middle school mathematics classroom, my role as teacher has changed.  No longer am I the ultimate source of knowledge in the classroom.  Instead I am a facilitator of student-centered, student-led learning.  No longer am I helping students to choose the right answer.  Now I am helping them to develop deep understanding of mathematics that has meaning to their lives.  My expectations are high, and everyday my students are rising to meet those expectations.

The role of my students has changed as well.  In the past, my students were doing math activities just to master concepts.  Now they engage in high level math tasks that require them to think critically about mathematical ideas.  Before my students listened to me explain math concepts and gave some explanations to me.  Now they are participating in deep discussions with their peers in which they must formulate their own understandings, justify their thinking, and critique the reasoning of others.  At one time, my students focused on choosing the right answer on a multiple choice test.  Now they concentrate on learning math that is relevant to their everyday lives and communicating their understanding of that math.

My students are becoming effective communicators and courageous problem solvers who are not afraid to tackle rigorous math tasks.  They have a sincere desire to be successful.  When I see them, I see young people who are one step closer to being ready for life after high school.  They truly are becoming prepared for college and the workforce.  I attribute all of these positive changes to the implementation of Common Core State Standards in my classroom.

Learn more about Common Core State Standards & PARCC Testing:

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.

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!

What does a bank executive think about being principal for a day?

by Connie White, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Fifth Third Bank

As I walked up the stairs to start my first morning as Principal for a Day at East Nashville Magnet School, I wondered what the walls of this 80 year old school would tell me if they could talk. After my visit, again, I was curious what these walls will tell us in the next five years.

My prediction: I believe they will talk of the seniors who are better prepared, academically and socially, to be active members of society. I believe that 100% of the seniors will graduate, and even more students will gain and seize the opportunity a college education can bring. Yes I believe the walls will talk about reaping the harvest from the seeds sewn by the MNPS Paideia Lead Principal, Steve Ball, staff and teachers, in just a few years.

Why is this data geek (me), making a prediction without reviewing test scores? Engagement. Respect. Collaboration. Caring. Pride.

Yes, I saw all of that and more, when I recently had the privilege of visiting East Magnet Middle School and High School with Principal Steve Ball. I saw a team all focused on learning in an environment where students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. I saw students who were actively engaged and were taking responsibility of their quest for knowledge.

I wish you could have seen the fifth graders smile as they proudly gave articulate narratives about the outcome of a recent project using Power Point, posters, and props to make their points. Or if you’d seen every hand in the room eagerly waving to answer questions in science class, you might understand the level of enthusiastic engagement I saw. If you could hear the pride in Principal’s voice announcing in the morning call that two more seniors gained their college acceptance letters, you’d understand the caring for students. Or if you’d heard the students making their way to their next class continuously saying, “Good morning Principal Ball,” you could witness the mutual respect I experienced.

Admitting that I’d never seen such an engaged student body that seemed to have more interest in learning than social exchange at that age, I asked about it. “These students want to be here to learn,” said Principal Ball. I was somewhat astonished because in my high school days we thought about our dates, parties, and attire and talked about how we couldn’t wait to graduate to be on our own.

As we talked more, I learned that Principal Ball was responsible for bringing the Paideia education process to East Nashville Magnet Schools, a process where students actively engage in intellectual discussions and learn from each other. Using this process to discuss current issues, students also learn the art of collaboration as they learn to listen and value many ideas and opinions. I came to respect this process and understood that students could practice this process to learn throughout their life’s journey, whether in school, the business world or their community.

If you ever gain the opportunity to visit East Nashville Magnet School, I encourage you to go. I promise you, it will be worth every minute of your time to witness a team that focuses on equipping children with a good academic base, social and learning skills for life… and the academic knowledge to exceed national test scores.

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

Litton Middle School’s new renovations and new attitude serve its East Nashville neighborhood

Apply to Litton Middle School

UPDATE: The official dedication of the new Isaac Litton Middle school brought out Rep. Jim Cooper, Mayor Karl Dean, Councilman Anthony Davis, and more! See a slideshow of photos from the ribbon cutting below.


Original post:
When I arrived at the newly renovated Isaac Litton Middle School, principal Tracy Bruno was fleeing the spray of a lawn sprinkler deployed to help the parched and newly planted landscaping. The grass may not have been prepared for the drought, but the school is prepared for more students and a higher profile in its East Nashville neighborhood.

“We are the epitome of a neighborhood school, right here in the middle of all these houses,” Bruno told me. And it’s true. Litton sits nestled between small, residential streets like Winding Way and Littonwood Drive right off Gallatin Pike.

The renovations that have taken place over the last year and a half have transformed the school into a building that looks practically new – and that’s because a lot of it is. The main office has been expanded. The library has a massive bank of new windows opening to the front lawn. The cafeteria is brand new and full of natural light. And the gym – once completely disconnected from the main building – has now been built out with new entrances, a new concession stand, and a host of new classrooms underneath it for fifth grade and related arts classes.

The rest of the building has been so spruced up, refinished, and painted that there is no disconnect between old and new. It all feels new to 2012. Just in time, too, because Bruno and his faculty have made it their mission to make Litton the neighborhood middle school in East Nashville.

“You can’t just sit around in your office and wait for kids to come to your school. You have to go out there and market your school and sell it, tell people the great things that are going on at your school because nobody’s going to do it for you.”

One of those great things happening at Litton is a strong focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. With new computers and projectors in every classroom, multiple iPad and netbook carts, and thousands of dollars in new STEM technology at the ready, Litton will prepare students to head right into Stratford STEM Magnet High School – another East Nashville neighborhood institution.

And Bruno’s mission to market his school isn’t self-serving. He sees in Litton the opportunity to bolster the sense of community that draws many people to East Nashville in the first place. He and his teachers have been working hard for the last year to make that happen, organizing events at feeder schools like Dan Mills Elementary and even going door-to-door to introduce themselves and build support for their school.

Fifth grade teacher Ashley Croft worked with the Martha O’Bryan Center on the Promise Neighborhood survey and used the opportunity to start building one-on-one relationships with the community.

“The whole idea was for parents and the community members to know that the teachers and the staff here care about the community,” Croft said. “And so showing up at their door for this survey – not even directly representing the school, but just for building community – I think it meant a lot to some parents.”

Bruno sees Litton’s zoned population, neighborhood placement, and STEM focus as advantages in an area filled with school options. Students in Litton’s neighborhood can choose among magnets, charters, and private schools. That’s a lot of competition in such a tight radius. But he sees plenty of reasons for parents to choose Litton.

“They live around the school. There’s familiarity. You have kids down the street that go to the same school your kids do. It’s just more of a community feel.” Indeed, listening to Bruno talk about what a neighborhood school can offer, he sounds a bit like a principal from a different era, working next to a doctor who makes house calls and a butter and egg delivery truck.

“I have no problem making a visit to a child’s house. I’ve had parents before who would call and say ‘Hey, my child missed the bus. I can’t get them there’ and I’ll go pick them up. It’s not a big thing, but the parents appreciate it. It could be a child who just doesn’t want to go to school. I will go to your house and talk to your child and tell them they need to go to school because sometimes parents need that help.”

And he expects a bit of reciprocity from parents; his open door policy means he is readily available to speak with parents, hear their concerns, and take their suggestions. “It helps the neighborhood take more ownership in the school and feel like they have a bigger part in the school and share as a stakeholder in the school.”

If Litton is the “epitome of a neighborhood school,” as Bruno boasts, then Bruno himself is the epitome of a great neighborhood principal, just like ones found all over Nashville in Metro’s other neighborhood schools. Principals from Joelton Elementary to Oliver Middle, Hermitage Elementary to Hillwood High build their schools the same way: to serve as resources and points of pride for their communities. Neighbors come to Overton football games donned head to toe in red and black. Long lines of early arriving parents gather outside Lakeview Elementary to chat and share stories from the school and the neighborhood.

That’s because our neighborhood schools are the neighborhoods they serve. Students live down the street, families play on the playgrounds, and school faculty and staff strive to better their communities through education.

Tracy Bruno can already see the change happening. “We have volunteers who were asking for things to do. That never happened three years previous. We had people at the doors asking, ‘What can I do to help Isaac Litton Middle School?’ That is a huge step in the right direction.”

With the new renovations, Litton has room to grow. And Bruno plans to fill it up.

“I want to see every classroom in this building filled with neighborhood kids. And I believe we can get there. There are enough students in East Nashville, in our cluster, in our zone, to fill this school up.”
His goal is to build a future for Litton where the young families now populating East Nashville feel great about sending their children there.

“I had a teacher in here last Monday who said ‘I will do whatever it takes to make my kids successful this year.’ When you have that kind of enthusiasm, the sky’s the limit.”

Rumor Control: Metro Says Student Can’t Slack Off With New Grading Policy – NewsChannel5.com

This piece from Aundrea Cline-Thomas at News Channel 5 sums up the new middle school grading policy pretty well.

Good grades used to be easier to come by.

“In the past maybe some of our grading practices inadvertently kind of made some grades a little bit invalid,” DuPont Hadley Middle School teacher Jennie Presson explained.

Assignments for extra credit would inflate the grades and could be a crutch especially for struggling students.

“Under the new policy students grades will be a really really accurate reflection of their level of understanding,” Presson added.

“It is a culture shift and we know it’s going to take some time,” Dr. Lora Hall, Associate Superintendent of Middle Schools said.

Full story:
Metro Says Student Can’t Slack Off With New Grading Policy – NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports.