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

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

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

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

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

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

Write to Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker

Contact Tennessee’s U.S. Representatives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 

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.