Priority Schools Task Force Update – Friday, September 26, 2014

It has been a week of intense public conversation and community input. Dr. Register met with parent groups at Inglewood, Dan Mills, Kirkpatrick and Lockeland, in addition to smaller group meetings with parents and community members from across East Nashville. He also heard from the faculties at Inglewood and Kirkpatrick, and took a tour of Kirkpatrick classrooms with principal Mildred Nelson.

The community conversation is having a noticeable impact on the design process for how to turn around low performing Metro schools. At today’s taskforce meeting, Dr. Register and others opened with summaries and reflections on the input they heard this week. That started a conversation about the work the taskforce has done do far and how it can be adjusted to reflect the community’s voice.

For starters, the taskforce will now include two new committees to address priority school needs:

  • School Climate, Culture and Community Engagement
    Led by Tony Majors, chief support services officer

    • This group will look at school needs in terms of social and emotional learning, community services and involvement, discipline, attendance, recruiting and more. This area of need has always been a part of the conversation, but after the input we heard at school visits and community meetings this week, it is getting a committee of its own. This committee is expected to help schools develop plans for wrap-around services to meet student needs outside of academics.
  • Instruction and Rigorous, Engaging Curriculum
    Led by Dr. Kelly Henderson, executive director of instruction

    • This group will look closely at the curriculum offered in each priority school to find areas of need and ways to better engage students in learning. A great deal of work has been done at many schools – including the middle preps and Academies of Nashville schools – to bring more projects and hands-on experiences into the classroom. This committee will ensure each priority school is using the very best and most rigorous curriculum, with a strong eye toward instructional practices that keep students engaged.

The taskforce also heard reports from the Teaching Quality and High Quality Leadership committees.

Teaching Quality
This committee has been working hard to develop concrete proposals to:

  • Recruit great teachers
    As mentioned at the Kirkpatrick parent meeting, there is a proposal well in development to recruit 100 of the best teachers in the country to Nashville. This plan would include some cash incentives and career opportunities. There will also be a broader effort to recruit teachers on a national scale.
  • Develop existing teachers
    Rather than only use test scores and evaluations, though both are important indicators of teacher effectiveness, a team is coming together for in-person assessments of teaching and quality instruction in priority schools. This team will perform a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) followed by a series of observations called “instructional rounds.” These observations will give a fuller picture of teacher quality beyond what is found on a spreadsheet. They also bring teachers into a deep, teacher-led discussion of how to improve instruction and eliminate barriers.
  • Retain great teachers in high-need schools
    The team is also developing a plan to retain high performing teachers in the schools that need them most. Thursday at Kirkpatrick, everyone was touched by the burst of applause and appreciation given to Ms. Ward when two parents mentioned her as a transformative force for their children. We need to find a way to make sure the Ms. Wards of the world stay at their current schools. 

High Quality Leadership
The work of this committee closely mirrors that of the Teaching Quality committee, in that its members are working to determine the needs of existing principals and recruit other great leaders to Nashville.

  • Determine and provide supports for existing principals
    Each priority school principal submitted a proposal for school turn-around, including any additional needs for the school. Some of those plans are good and some are lacking. The committee has reviewed each one and helped shape a list of immediate needs to be filled. Some of these have already been filled and others are in progress.
  • Recruit and hire great leaders to Nashville
    To recruit great leaders, we first have to determine what a great leader looks like in Metro Schools. Our needs will be different than those of another urban district, so the committee identified the qualities we need in a turn-around principal. The next step is to develop a recruiting and marketing plan for a nationwide search of the very best turn-around principals. Where should we be looking and how can we find them? That is what we hope to determine. Incentives will also be offered. The hiring process would follow the same “New Leaders” process used to hire principals last summer and assess candidates against the turn-around qualities we seek.

The Student Assignment committee met to continue discussions about East Nashville choice and what that could look like. This committee is still a long way away from any concrete proposals because the community input process has just begun. But the ideas discussed today are the same ones brought up at many community meetings over the last two weeks, mostly centered around stable K-12 pathways like STEM and Paideia and how to provide transportation to every student who makes a choice.

Taskforce meetings will continue next week, as will parent and community meetings. The community meetings are:

  • Tuesday, September 30 – Jere Baxter Middle
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 1 – Napier Elementary School
    Faculty meeting at 4:30 p.m., parent meeting at 5:30 p.m.
    Napier will serve dinner to its families at 5:00 p.m.

Lastly, we will soon announce the formation of an advisory committee that will meet regularly and offer substantive input as the plan for low performing schools and East Nashville choice comes together. The committee will include teachers, parents and community members from schools, neighborhoods and other stakeholder groups. Look for those details in the coming days.

Task Force Members

Dr. Jesse Register, Director of Schools
Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer
Dr. Alan Coverstone, Executive Officer for Innovation
Dr. Vanessa Garcia, Executive Officer for Elementary Schools
Dr. Antoinette Williams, Executive Officer for Middle Schools
Dr. Michelle Wilcox, Executive Officer for High Schools
Dr. Dottie Critchlow, Executive Officer for Instructional Support
Kevin Stacy, Director of English Learners
Dr. Kelly Henderson, Executive Director of Instruction
Tony Majors, Chief Support Services Officer
Alvin Jones, Executive Director of Student Services
Gini Pupo-Walker, Director of Family and Community Partnerships
Dr. Paul Changas, Executive Director of Research, Assessment and Evaluation
Susan Thompson, Chief Human Capital Officer
Katie Cour, Executive Director of Talent Strategy
Shannon Black, Director of Talent Management
Shirene Douglas, Director of Talent Acquisition
Craig Ott, Executive Director of Human Capital Operations
Clarissa Zellars, Director of School Improvement Strategies
Chris Weber, Director of Student Assignment
Ryan Latimer, Coordinator fo Enrollment Forecasting in Student Assignment
Representatives from Transportation, on behalf of Taffy Marsh
Hank Clay, Government Relations
Olivia Brown, Director of Communications
Joe Bass, Communications Specialist

An Open Letter to Nashville Families from Dr. Jesse Register

To the families of Nashville,

This week we dropped a big piece of news that left more questions than answers. That’s breeding anxiety among many, so we write today to better explain our ideas and let you know what’s happening over the next several weeks.

Pardon the length of this letter, but there is a lot to talk about. First, let’s address East Nashville, then we can get to your biggest questions and concerns.

There is a lot of good happening in East Nashville, but also a lot of schools that need to do better. We have excellent neighborhood schools at Dan Mills and Lockeland. We have an excellent magnet school at East. We have excellent charter schools at KIPP and others. We are developing a strong K-12 pathway to Stratford STEM.

How can we make every school in East Nashville more like these excellent schools, so that no one attends a struggling school and everyone gets to choose among great school options? That’s what we hope to find.

What are the facts so far?
We are 100% committed to getting parent and community input at the beginning of this process, which is right now. That’s why we announced our intentions this week and why we are holding the first of many community meetings next week.

The plan is still in such early stages of development that all we can share right now are broad ideas and a few specifics. As we speak to families, teachers, principals and community members, more details can be formed and decisions made.

Here are the facts so far:

  • This is a plan to address and turn around all low performing schools in Nashville. In three years, we will have no schools on the state’s priority list. To do this, we are focusing on the bottom 25% district-wide.
  • In East Nashville, we want to give all families high-quality choices. Under this plan, all families in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters would get to choose their school, and no one would be assigned to a school by default.
  • Successful schools must be preserved. There are successful schools in East Nashville – several, in fact. We will not do anything to undermine or destroy these schools.
  • If your school is high performing, it will not close or convert.
  • If your school is high performing and you like it, you can stay there.

Will you eliminate the GPZ at Lockeland Elementary?
There are no plans to change the GPZ at Lockeland. Instead, we’ll look for ways to expand its reach. It’s so successful that we want to use it as a model.

Does that mean adding or opening up seats at Lockeland? Maybe. Does it mean changing another elementary school to be more like Lockeland and attract the growing Lockeland Springs population there? Maybe. We will know for certain very soon.

Choice does not mean the elimination of neighborhood schools like Lockeland. Choice schools can still be neighborhood schools. Lockeland is the prime example of this.

What does this plan mean for priority schools right now?
In the immediate future – meaning now and through the end of this school year – there will be some leadership and staff changes. We will also start building and implementing individualized plans of action for each priority school. This means there will be a broad strategy to turn that school around. Each plan will be different, based on the very specific needs of that school and its students.

Within the next few months, we expect to announce any possible closings or transitions. Those will take effect at the end of this school year. Before the school year is over, we will work closely with affected families on the choices available to them.

What does this plan mean for the future of East Nashville?
East Nashville needs more schools like Lockeland, Dan Mills, East Nashville Magnet and KIPP. All four of those are good schools and present a wide array of options for everyone. Families need security as their children transition to middle and high school. They need to be sure they will get into the schools they planned for. There must be quality choices available for the growing number of families and young children in East Nashville.

So this plan is about greater choice, but it’s also about sticking with the choice for as long as you like to – without the uncertainty of a lottery.

Using those good schools as starting points, let’s build pathways that children can follow – if they so choose – from kindergarten to graduation without having to go through the application and selection process.

What does that look like in practical terms?
Details are still being developed, but here are just a few of ideas being considered:

  • Turn a low performing elementary school into a strong Paideia school that feeds directly into East.
  • Strengthen the pipeline into Litton Middle and Stratford High by pairing more elementary schools with Dan Mills. These schools will get strong turnaround attention based on the specific needs of the families within that school.
  • Consider a K-12 pipeline for KIPP while building more seats at other successful charter schools so families who want to choose a successful charter school can do so at any grade.

Giving parents this certainty will help them make decisions early, which attracts more families to these schools. There are already a lot of choices in East Nashville. Let’s make them all quality choices and give families the security to stick with them.

What about closings and conversions?
We expect an announcement in the near future about which schools could be closed or converted. Those discussions are still underway, but we expect it to be very few.

We won’t try to hide it: there are some really tough decisions ahead. It’s never easy to close a school or transition it to a charter operator. Both are disruptive to families and logistically very difficult.

But the simple fact is that right now there are many more seats in East Nashville than there are students. Closing or consolidating schools gives us tighter focus on fixing what’s not working.

Why weren’t parents consulted until now?
We are still very early in this process, so parents are getting in early. Final decisions will not be made until we’ve visited schools, spoken to teachers and families, and gathered community input.

A priority schools task force has been meeting for two weeks to examine the facts, pull ideas together and start building a first draft of the overall plan.

Who is on this taskforce? What goes on at these meetings? Why isn’t the public invited to participate?
The task force is made up of 20 or so of the top administrators in the district representing several areas of expertise. They have met multiple times over the last couple of weeks armed with stacks of data. Every meeting includes a deep dive into individual student and teacher data, identifying issues and coming up with new ideas on how to solve them.

The task force is working in three main areas:

  • Great School Leadership
  • Excellent Teachers
  • System Supports

There are also people working with in all three areas to gather information and plan for communications and community engagement.

What will happen next?
Earlier this week, I met with all principals in the Stratford and Maplewood clusters to talk about the plan and the challenges they face. I will continue to meet with them throughout this process.

Starting next week, I will begin visits to every priority school and every school in East Nashville. I will spend most of my afternoon at each school, doing three things:

  • During the school day, I will tour and observe classrooms.
  • After dismissal, I will meet with the faculty to listen to them and talk about ideas for improvement.
  • In the evening, I will meet with families from that school to listen to them, answer questions and give updates on planning.

The schedule is in development, but these meetings are expected to begin next Thursday, Sept. 18. There will also be larger community meetings and several one-on-one meetings with community members to gather input and answer questions.

Every Friday, we will publish an update on the planning process and address any big questions or concerns we heard during the week.

This is going to be a long process of development and implementation. Some changes will take place immediately, while others will take longer.

We have a lot of hard work to do, but we look forward to having great parent partners to help us along the way.

Sincerely,

Jesse B. Register, Ed.D.

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