Metro principals unite to thank Dr. Jesse Register for his strong leadership

This letter was presented to the Metropolitan Board of Public Education on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Download the full letter to see the 200 signatures.

Dear Nashvillians,

We, the principals and instructional leaders of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, offer this letter of support for the leadership and vision of Dr. Jesse Register, Director of Schools. During his tenure, time and again, he has demonstrated a commitment to ensuring that all students are provided with the “foundation of knowledge, skills, and character necessary to excel in higher education, work, and life.” His willingness to make the tough – and sometimes unpopular – decisions, his intentional focus on instructional efficacy and excellence, and his pledge to “look closely at our own practices…so we can find ways to improve” mean that MNPS students, families, employees, and community members have a vocal educational advocate in Dr. Register. We are his direct reports, his colleagues, his collaborators, and his supporters who are duty-bound with him to educate this city’s and this nation’s future citizenry.


Principals at Board meeting

Principals line up to speak to the Board of Education in support of Dr. Jesse Register and his accomplishments. – July 8, 2014


At present, MNPS is placed in this state’s second highest accountability category, a far cry from the district that was in state takeover upon Dr. Register’s arrival. He collaborated with district and community leaders, along with parents and advocates, to design a more equitable school system that emphasizes the interconnectedness of teacher effectiveness, Central-Office support, positive teacher-student interactions, accountability at all levels, and school-based autonomy in guaranteeing students academic achievement and social/emotional development. Dr. Register relied upon those with institutional history to help him make informed decisions about how best to respect and preserve the district’s traditions while moving forward with needed transformative change. Some of the district’s accomplishment’s under Dr. Register’s leadership include:

  • being one of the first school systems in the nation to be awarded Race to the Top federal funds;
  • achieving national recognition for its blended learning practices and district-wide technology-in-classroom implementation;
  • expanding a high-quality early childhood program so that more children have PreK experiences;
  • continuing to develop the Academies of Nashville as students’ needs evolve;
  • introducing the Middle Preps of Nashville as the starting point to career and/or college readiness;
  • providing no-cost, healthy meals for all students, regardless of family socio-economics; and
  • partnering with other urban districts to investigate the correlation between discipline disparity and student achievement and performance.

To date, there have been over 1,000 visitors to our district, including President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, to witness our teachers’ hard work and dedication under Dr. Register’s leadership. The district continues to gain and grow.

Dr. Register has challenged principals and instructional leaders to lead, and we have done just that. He has given us more autonomy through a redesigned leadership paradigm that distributes leadership and decision-making among a greater number of people. He has stream-lined Central-Office operations so that resources and support are in our schools where the needs are greatest. He has trusted us to make decisions that are best for our schools, our students, and our teachers. In short, Dr. Register has created a professional teaching, learning, and leading environment in which all members are valued for their individual contributions to the district’s vision and mission. He has empowered us, which, in turn, allows us to empower those we lead.

We are the principals and instructional leaders of MNPS, leading approximately 83,000 students and 5,100 teachers in the nation’s 42nd largest school district. Our students and teachers represent the African and Asian diasporas, the cities and villages or Central and South America, and the Music City. We have a diversity of languages and experiences that enrich our already dynamic district. We are Antioch, Cane Ridge, Glencliff, Hillsboro, Hillwood, Hunters Lane, McGavock, Maplewood, Overton, Pearl-Cohn, Stratford, and Whites Creek. And we proudly support Dr. Jesse Register as he continues to work for the students, families, employees and community members of Greater Nashville.

Sincerely,

The MNPS Principals and Instructional Leaders

On the Job: Metro teachers’ attendance rate higher than “national average”

95.8% attendance rate in 2012-13 flies in the face of recent study

Did you see this report? It comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The study claims more than two-thirds of Nashville teachers are “frequently absent,” meaning they miss anywhere from 11-17 days in the classroom each year.

This study makes several broad assumptions and big leaps. Chief among them is the definition of “absence.” In explaining its methodology, the authors say explicitly, “Professional development and other job-related absences that would require students to be taught by a substitute were included.”

We do not consider teachers taking professional development days to be absent, nor do we consider that a detriment to the students. When teachers are out of the classroom for full days of professional development, they are learning new skills and methods to improve instruction. That definitely benefits their students.

Using the study’s methodology, the authors come up with a teacher attendance rate of 92.38% for 2012-13. When you look purely at sick days and disability days, as we do, that rate is actually 95.8% – well above the 94% national average the authors calculate. Preliminary numbers for teacher attendance in 2013-14 look to hit 96.2% – an even further improvement.

Further, the study assumes that days spent with a substitute teacher harm students academically. We reject this assumption. As a district, we have strengthened our substitute teacher pool by requiring each candidate to complete a training program and pass a test. Once approved, each substitute teacher enters the classroom with experience in instruction, classroom management and working with students. The old days from years ago of substitute teachers effectively “babysitting” students are over. Substitute teachers in Metro Schools give instruction.

From the article linked at the top:

“‘While these big-city school districts are struggling to improve student achievement, they may be overlooking one of the most basic aspects of teacher effectiveness: every teacher being regularly on the job, teaching kids,’ said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington think tank that advocates for reform in recruiting, retaining and compensating teachers. It receives its money from private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

We take teacher attendance very seriously and are making every effort to improve it. The numbers bear that out. We also believe our teachers are hard working and dedicated to their students. This study takes a much broader definition of “absence” than is reasonable, and its conclusions are suspect.

For the curious, here’s what teachers are allowed per year:

  • 10 sick days
  • 5 professional development days
  • 2 personal days

Metro Schools receives nine charter school applications in 2014

Metro Nashville Public Schools received nine applications for charter schools to open in the fall of 2015 by the April 1, 2014, deadline. Three applications propose expanding schools currently operating; three propose replicating school models approved by the Board of Education last year and three are from new school operators.

“This is the next important step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who leads the Innovation Office that manages charter school authorizing for Metro Schools. “Later this week, application review committees will begin examining each proposal.”

The district’s work to professionalize charter school authorizing and oversight since 2009 has borne fruit as the district has granted charters to several academically high-performing schools that serve diverse student bodies.

Review teams are organized and trained according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

“We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

A thorough review of each application against a detailed scoring rubric is the first step in the evaluation. Each proposal is examined for its capacity to provide an exemplary educational program, strong operational capacity, and long-term financial viability. The final evaluation includes an interview with each applicant group and an evaluation against Board-articulated priorities, including academic excellence and diversity, school conversion and student growth management. Recommendations will be delivered to the School Board in late July.

“The Metro Schools mission emphasizes the importance of high-performing and diverse schools and we are pleased to see some real successes in those areas with schools serving students well each year,” said Coverstone.

Applications now under review are:

  • The International Academy of Excellence – Proposed to serve K-4 beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES) – Proposed as a phased conversion of a target school to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1 and growing one grade per year.
  • Knowledge Academy High – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 105 students, building out 420 students at capacity.
  • Rocketship – Proposed Rocketship schools would serve PK – 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575. One application is for a new school in South Nashville and a second would convert management of a target school.
  • STEM Prep – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
  • STRIVE Collegiate Academy – Proposed middle school serving grades 5-8, opening with grade 5 and 115 students, reaching a capacity of 460 in grades 5-8.
  • The Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science and Technology Academy – Proposed high school to begin with grade 9, 40 students and at capacity serve 400 students in grades 9-12.
  • Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast – Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville.  At capacity would serve 975 students.

Studies tout Metro Schools’ Common Core & PARCC readiness

America’s education experts have taken notice of what’s happening in Metro Schools.

It’s not something parents might notice just by looking at their child’s school, but over the last several years, a great deal of change has been building in the district. It’s all led up to the launch of Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, the strategic plan to become the highest-performing urban district in the nation, and the transformation that plan is bringing to every Metro classroom.

That transformation is being held up as an example of how to successfully implement the Common Core State Standards and prepare for the online assessments they bring. Metro Schools is featured as a case study in a new white paper, showing how a district can successfully transition into 21st century teaching and learning.

The white paper, called Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready, comes from the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), eLearn Institute and Education Networks of America (ENA).

MNPS is clearly making the human and financial investments to ensure its students, teachers, administrators and parents are prepared not only for the upcoming CCSS online assessments, but also for the digital learning transformation that is necessary to implement its personalized learning initiative. MNPS has specific and measurable metrics in place to monitor its progress during its three-year implementation plan.

Another major study, Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, also looks at Metro Schools’ Common Core preparation and calls the district the “Urban Bellwether.”

Uniquely poised going into the transition, Metro Nashville Public Schools has drawn on dedicated funding, good partnerships with the state, and strong local leadership in its early rollout of the Common Core. High levels of communication and a culture of trust among educators, the district, and the central office have helped Metro Nashville to move forward with the Common Core without major opposition, despite emerging pushback in other areas of the state. The transition to the new standards has not been without challenges in the district, and the early adoption of the standards—prior to the state’s textbook adoption timeline—presented a particular challenge as teachers struggled to find and create high-quality transitional curricular materials. But the district believes the short-term challenges and at times rocky transition have deepened teacher learning about the demands and details of the new standards, improving conditions for quality implementation in the long run. Metro Nashville’s continued implementation challenge now lies in navigating the complexities of integrating teacher evaluation reforms with the ongoing transition to new Common Core-aligned assessments.

The full Raising the BAR white paper is on the ENA website, while Common Core in the Districts can be found on EdExcellence.net.

Raising the BAR: Becoming Assessment Ready

Common Core in the Districts: An Early Look at Early Implementers

Nine letters of intent to apply to open charter schools in Nashville

Nine charter school operators submitted initial Letters of Intent to apply for charters to operate schools beginning in the Fall of 2015. Four of the letters represent expansions of schools currently operating in Nashville and earning ratings of Achieving or Excelling on the MNPS Academic Performance Framework in 2013. Two letters represent expansions of nationally successful school models approved by the School Board last year. Three letters are from new school operators.

“This is a very early step in the process,” said Alan Coverstone, who heads the Innovation Office which manages charter school authorizing for MNPS. “We will not know how well prepared the schools are to operate and meet the immediate needs in our district until after their applications are submitted April 1, 2014.”

Efforts to professionalize authorizing and oversight of charter schools since 2009 have borne fruit as the District has granted charters to several schools that are both academically high-performing and serve a diverse student body.

“The MNPS mission emphasizes the importance of high-performing and diverse schools, and we are pleased to see some of our real successes in those areas growing and serving more students well each year,” said Coverstone.

Once actual applications are received on April 1st, each will undergo a rigorous and thorough review of organizational and financial capacity, educational plans, accessibility, and need. “We will only recommend approval of strong schools that serve the best interests of the students of Davidson County,” said Coverstone.

Submission of letters of intent to apply to open charter schools gives the Office of Innovation two months to organize and train its application review teams according to the Principles and Standards of high-quality authorizing articulated by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA).

The time between now and April 1st also provides opportunity for potential applicants to consider, develop, and adapt plans in order to strengthen their potential applications and adapt their plans to best serve the articulated needs of MNPS students.

Read the 2014 Letters of Intent to Open a Charter School in MNPS

Of the nine filed, six propose replications of programs previously approved for operation in Nashville:

  • KIPP Academy Nashville Elementary School (KANES) – Proposed to serve grades K-4, beginning with K-1at 192 students and serving 480 students at capacity, growing one grade per year.
  • Knowledge Academy High – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 105 students, building out 420 students at capacity.
  • RePublic Middle School – Proposed replication of Liberty Collegiate Academy, to serve Glencliff and Antioch clusters, grades 5-8, beginning with grade 5 and 110 students, building out to a capacity of 440 in grade 8.
  • Rocketship – Proposed Rocketship school would serve PK – 4, opening with 475 students in PK-4 and at capacity serve 575.
  • STEM Prep – Proposed to serve grades 9-12, beginning with grade 9 and 100 students, serving 400 at capacity.
  • Valor Collegiate Academy Southeast – Proposed K-8 replication of Valor Collegiate and modeled after Summit Prep to serve families in southeast Nashville, grades 5-6 and 260 students beginning K-1 in year 2.  At capacity would serve 975 students.

The remaining three schools are:

  • The International Academy of Excellence – Proposed to serve K-4 in the Glencliff and Antioch clusters, beginning with kindergarten and 110 students, reaching 550 at capacity.
  • The Tracey Darnell Agricultural Science and Technology Academy – Proposed high school to begin with grade 9, 40 students and at capacity serve 400 students in grades 9-12.
  • STRIVE Collegiate Academy – Proposed middle school serving grades 5-8, opening with grade 5 and 115 students, reaching a capacity of 460 in grades 5-8.

Tell us what you think of the 2014-15 district calendar

Two years ago we came to you with an idea to change the school calendar in a pretty big way.  We wanted more balance between blocks of school days and breaks. That meant starting school on August 1, giving us extra days throughout the year to benefit students, and shortening summer break to reduce the gap in instruction from one school year to the next.

Last year we used those extra days for intersession, just like we’ll do this year. Intersession is an opportunity for students to extend learning beyond what they could get in regular classroom time. In order to be truly successful, it requires funding to match its ambitions.

That did not happen. Cuts to federal funding meant we could not serve as many students as we’d hoped. While we are pleased overall with how intersession went in its pilot year and heard good reports from participating families, lack of transportation and limited funding for programs meant most students did not take advantage of it.

Intersession fills a need and want for many families. But it is just one element of a balanced school calendar. We are now exploring alternative ways to extend the school year, including one that benefits all students.

A calendar committee that included parents, principals, administrators and employee union members developed these recommendations for the board of education. In all options:

  • The first day of school is August 1
  • The last day of school is May 28
  • The 2014 summer break is nine weeks long

The options for the 2014-15 district calendar are:

  • Option #1
    Consistent with the current calendar, this option has two intersession periods in October and March. This option is cost neutral.

    • 175 regular instructional days
    • four days each in October and March that could be used either for intersession or an extended break
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days for teacher planning and professional development
    • five days built in for inclement weather
  • Option #2
    This calendar essentially turns intersession days into regular school days and more professional development days for teachers. This option would cost an additional $20-21 million for the added days.

    • 180 regular instructional days
    • nine days for teacher professional development (including four from local funds)
    • five days each for fall break and spring break
    • five days built in for inclement weather

Option #1 is a good calendar. It served us well last year and will serve us well this year, too. The intersession periods give us the opportunity to reach as many students as we can for enrichment and remediation without additional funds. Given the current economic situation, we do not know what intersession could look like in 2014-15, but we will do our utmost to make it valuable to Nashvillians.

Option #2 is our preferred option. We want to add more time in the classroom for all students so we meet the national standard of 180 instructional days. Further, we want to ensure that time is quality time in the classroom by providing our teachers time for professional learning and growth throughout the year. As a result it gives teachers ten additional paid workdays in the year.

The final decision on which calendar to use falls to the Board of Education, but we want to know what you think. Which calendar would you prefer?

See all calendar options.

Send your feedback to
MNPSCommunications@mnps.org

Come to our public discussion on
July 24 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
in the MNPS Board Room.

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.