Your Support Helps Improve Your Schools

Here are some quick facts about our school district:

  • Number of Buildings: 180
  • Indoor Square Footage: 14 million
  • Typical Age of Buildings: 42 years

With so much space to care for – and with ages varying from 100 years old to one – it’s no wonder we have a lot of capital needs. Older schools need to be repaired, improved, expanded and modernized. Growing neighborhoods need new buildings to accommodate all those new families. We need new school buses and long-term technology infrastructure.

There’s a lot to be done.

For the 2012-13 school year, we received $100 million in capital funding. Over the past six years we have received about $300 million. That is wonderful. We appreciate the support for our schools.

We need about $100 million every year to address the many needs in our schools. To make progress against the backlog of projects, we will need strong and sustained support from the community. We will need full capital funding every year. That happens when our communities show support for school projects, urging decision makers to give schools what they need and deserve.

See some of the biggest areas of need in Metro Schools:

This year we requested $159 million from the city to address urgent capital needs, including school renovations and expansions, school buses and technology. The projects in that request included adding classrooms to elementary schools in South Nashville, replacing Tusculum Elementary and Goodlettsville Middle, renovating aging East Nashville schools and bringing new elementary schools to Antioch and 12South.

The Mayor has recommended about $95 million in capital funding for this year. We know the city faces competing demands on its budget, and that ours aren’t the only infrastructure needs in Nashville. The Metro Council has to make tough decisions about which projects to fund.

While we’re very grateful for any funding, the gap of almost $70 million means some projects expected for 2013-14 will be delayed, and that causes a ripple effect in our capital projects plan. Every year’s delay is another year school communities will wait to see their school’s capital needs met.

Consider this fact:

  • Total Cost of Capital Projects Through 2019: $1.19 billion

This isn’t money for administration or pay raises or textbooks. This is money to keep our buildings proper learning environments for children. Visit one of the schools on our capital master plan and you will see clearly: the needs of the school district are real needs. Investments in our children’s places of learning are investments in the future of Nashville. They benefit our children, they attract new residents and businesses and they have lasting effects on our city’s future.

We cannot improve them without a strong commitment to improvement from our community. That begins with you. Metro Council will vote on the city’s capital budget tomorrow: Tuesday, June 11. Call or email your council representative and ask them to support our schools’ capital requests. Without their support, students will have to wait longer and longer for the school buildings they deserve.

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

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

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.

9 local & national leaders write letters of support for MNPS in Race to the Top District competition

UPDATE: Though Metro Schools did not win the Race to the Top District competition, the plan outlined in our application – and supported by the leaders listed below – will move forward.


City, state, and national leadership are lining up in support of Metro Schools’ plans for reform and the Race to the Top District competition money that could help make them successful much more quickly.

“What happens in Nashville matters to Tennessee and the nation,” wrote Gov. Bill Haslam. “Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is uniquely positioned to inform the entire field.”

Gov. Haslam is one of many who wrote letters to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan voicing full support for the reform efforts happening in Metro Schools. Joining him are Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, former Senator and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Representative Jim Cooper, State Representative and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Mayor Karl Dean, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, and former State Senator and CEO of SCORE Jamie Woodson, .

Our district has applied for $40 million in the Race to the Top District competition, which would help accelerate the implementation and success of our efforts. The application includes plans for networked leadership so groups of schools, including charter schools, can share best practices, personalized learning plans for more than 27,000 students, and increased school autonomy and accountability. We are one of just 61 districts across the nation chosen as a finalist in the competition and and the only one that will be building on the work begun as a first round recipient of Race to the Top funding. The U.S. Department of Education will choose 15-25 finalists who will each receive part of a $400 million grant.

Learn More About RTTT-D & Read Our Application

Read the Full Letters of Support:

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!

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.”

ACT Now! Our plan to raise ACT scores across the district

Every high school student in Tennessee is required totake the ACT. Tennessee is one of just a handful of states with this requirement and while that is not always good for our public image – it perhaps puts statewide test scores below other states where only the best and brightest take the test – it is very good for our students. Some students who might not otherwise take the test are required to, giving them an additional college credential or even a HOPE scholarship.

We want all our high school students to score a bare minimum 21 on the ACT. Of course, we prepare them to reach much higher than that, but we set the minimum at 21 because that is when scholarships and financial aid to state schools are within reach. With a 21, many students can afford college.

This year’s ACT results for our district show we still have a long way to go, but we’re making progress.  In fact, we’ve advanced our scores at a faster rate than the rest of the state.

But it’s still not good enough. We need better results in a shorter amount of time. We need results like the ones at Hillwood High School.

In the short time since Hillwood principal Dr. Steve Chauncy started his ACT Now program, the percentage of his students scoring 21 or higher has risen nearly 10%. When you consider statewide gains are measured in tenths of a percent, that is a huge jump.

How did Hillwood do it? And how will Dr. Chauncy and the Hillwood team spread similar results district-wide?

  1. Practice, practice, practice
    Before students take the actual ACT in their junior year, they sit for up to six practice tests – one as freshmen, the PLAN test, two practice assessments as sophomores, and two as juniors. Those tests are as real as they come, often actual ACT exams from previous years given through a program called Learning Express. By the time they sit for the real thing, they know exactly what to expect.
  2. Targeted instruction
    Rather than teaching students how to take a test, data from these practice tests is used for targeted instruction in the classroom. Areas of need are identified for individual students, and lessons can be are tailored to those needs. That starts right away. Freshmen come into Hillwood carrying data from the EXPLORE test taken in middle school. That data is used to start building ACT college skills in freshmen seminar classes.
  3. Critical Thinking Classes
    All Hillwood sophomores take a Critical Thinking and Imaginative Writing course where they learn how to apply their knowledge to problem solving and real world scenarios. That helps work through tough questions like those on the ACT and the even tougher questions students will later address in college and in their careers.
  4. Adaptable Solutions for All Schools
    This program has been shared across the district to all zoned high schools. But not every high school is the same, so it is can be easily molded to fit a particular school’s needs, resources, and abilities. As schools find improvements, they will be incorporated into the ACT Now program so the district is in a cycle of continuous improvement.

Development for this program is far from over. We are going even deeper into the data, looking at individual questions on practice tests to identify the academic support students need and we are providing afterschool tutoring for juniors with support from HCA.

The program began at Hillwood in the fall of 2010 and is spreading so all our high schools see rapid growth and all students are college ready and eligible for scholarship dollars.