It’s Official: Metro Nashville Public Schools rates “Intermediate” status

District meets seven of nine benchmarks; student achievement grows

Metro Nashville Public Schools showed growth in achievement among all subgroups of students last year, placing the district in intermediate status – the second highest accountability category. The State Department of Education earlier today released district-level status for all Tennessee districts, including for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Under this new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are “Exemplary” while the bottom performing districts are in two “In Need of Improvement” categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category. Tennessee’s new accountability system replaces No Child Left Behind’s Annual Yearly Progress measures. Rather than expecting all districts to meet the same benchmarks year after year, the new system acknowledges that districts are starting from different places and rewards those that show the most growth. Under the new system, approximately 43% of districts were categorized as “In Need of Improvement” or “In Need of Subgroup Improvement.”

“These results show that thousands more of our students are performing at a higher level,” said Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register. “Tennessee standards are among the highest in the country and this new accountability system is real, it is holding districts to standards that are difficult but attainable.

“The growth we have seen this year is the result of a lot of hard work, of making changes to instructional practice, providing more professional development and meeting our students’ diverse needs. We want to accelerate that growth at all levels and close achievement gaps.”

The accountability system, adopted after Tennessee secured a waiver from part of NCLB earlier this year, looks to districts to increase achievement levels for all students and reduce achievement gaps that exist between certain groups. Metro Schools serves approximately one-third of the state’s English Learner students, as well approximately 12,000 Students with Disabilities. The district also serves more than 56,000 economically disadvantaged students, which is about 71% of total enrollment for last year.

Metro Schools’ students made significant academic progress in the 2011-12 school year and the district met the majority of Tennessee’s academic achievement targets. In 2010, Tennessee adopted new academic performance standards that are among the most demanding in the nation. Metro Schools have shown steady improvement against these higher standards.

Grade 3-8 TCAP Tests
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011 2012 
Reading/Language Arts 33.9% 38.9% 42.1% 
Math 25.9% 32.2% 38.4%
Science 36.2% 38.8%  44.5%
High School End of Course Exams
% proficient/advanced
  2010 2011  2012 
Algebra I 28.7% 37.6% 41.8%
English II 47.4% 46.6%  48.7% 

In addition, the district made impressive improvement at every grade level on the TCAP writing assessment with nine out of ten middle and high school students scoring competent or better.

Writing Assessment
Competent or Higher
  2010 2011  2012 
Grade 5  77% 77% 81% 
Grade 8 86% 86% 90%
Grade 11 90% 88%  91%

With this new system, Metro Schools met seven of nine benchmarks. The district showed improvement but narrowly missed the set benchmark for third grade reading/language arts. The district also missed in the graduation rate, the one calculation that has a one-year lag. The state has changed its calculation of graduation rate from a 5-year calculation to a 4-year calculation. Many students served by Metro Schools, such as English Learners or Students with Disabilities, require five years to graduate and are not included in the district’s overall graduation rate. Last year, Metro Schools’ graduation rate was 76.2%, down from 82.9% under the 5-year calculation. The 2012 graduation rate is not available.

Under Tennessee’s new accountability framework, the top-performing districts are exemplary while the bottom performing districts are in two in need of improvement categories; the remaining districts are in an intermediate category.

“I appreciate the support of our Board of Education as we transform our district. We knew test scores would be the last thing to change and we are pleased to see this growth,” said Register. “We must continue to improve in all categories. Reducing the achievement gap among student groups is our most significant challenge.”

Individual student reports are in transit to the schools where students are assigned for the 2012-13 school year. Each school will send the reports home to families. The State of Tennessee has not yet released school-level data.

Advertisements

Letter to the State Board of Education: Uphold our Great Hearts denial

We respectfully, but strongly disagree with the recommendation of Dr. Nixon and believe that it oversteps legitimate authority to review charter decisions by local boards of education (TCA 49-13-108(a)(3)).

TCA 49-13-108(a)(3) states that the state board’s decision to remand must be based on “objective reasons.” The main reason given for remanding the decision (that MNPS did not follow our own policies/process) is factually incorrect. MNPS did follow all written policies regarding the role of the review committee and the Office of Innovation. Because Dr. Nixon’s decision was based on a false premise, this decision does not meet the “objective reasons” standard. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation relies on mischaracterization of the published review process. The process in its entirety is aligned with NACSA Principals and Standards and is followed by the Achievement School District.

Left unaddressed are the statements by Great Hearts that they cannot open a school in 2013 and that “in an email to supporters, Great Hearts Academy CEO Daniel Scoggin and President Peter Bezanson said they would like to open their first of five schools in 2014. Great Hearts will submit its appeal to the state this week, Scoggin and Bezanson said” (Tennessean, July 5, 2012). Since the application cycle for schools to open in 2014 is not held until April of 2013, action to remand for approval pre-judges and future application. TN Charter Law 49-13-107(b) states: “On or before October 1 of the year preceding the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation, the sponsor seeking to establish the public charter school shall prepare and file with the chartering authority an application…”

This recommendation has been issued two years prior to “the year in which the proposed charter school plans to begin operation.” It remands a school proposal for approval that has not yet been through the proper application cycle for schools that will open in 2014. We welcome this application through our regular review process at our 2014 application deadline of April 1, 2013.

The recommendation validates three substantial and objective reasons for denial as important to the best interests of students, the district, and the community and affirms that the school should not be opened unless and until these reasons can be overcome.

  1. The recommendation requires the school to employee certified teachers. The application says it will be impossible to maintain the quality teacher pipeline they use in Phoenix if such a requirement is made.
  2. The recommendation limits the school to opening a single site. The application says they will be unable to execute their business plan without a guarantee of five schools.
  3. The recommendation requires a diversity plan using the “blind, lottery process” that MNPS uses in its choice schools. This is the process that the applicant claims to use in Phoenix, and the resulting segregation is unacceptable.
Demographics  of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

Demographics of Great Hearts Schools in AZ

The Great Hearts application went through the same review process, using the same standards as four other charter schools that were approved this year. Under the circumstances, it is difficult to find the district acted contrary to its best interests, those of the students, or the community it serves. Dr. Nixon’s recommendation replaces a thoughtful, transparent and rigorous review with a less thorough, less effective process. It also penalizes local, elected school boards for seeking to hear from all sides in making important decisions.

We respect Dr. Nixon and appreciate the gravity of the challenge he faces in trying to evaluate a three month process on the basis of a 1-hour hearing and a mountain of documents filed less than 24 hours before his recommendation was due. Deciding the case under such constraints, it is difficult to make a clear-eyed assessment of the facts.

If the recommendation disagreed with the reasons for denial instead of validating them, there might be a reason for the state board to intervene. Accepting this recommendation does substantial damage to the accountability relationship with the authorizer that lies at the very heart of the charter school bargain (autonomy for accountability).

Based on the recommendation affirming our objective reasons for denial, we sincerely hope that you will vote to maintain the balance of decision-making authority that this opinion threatens to upend.

Sincerely,

Jesse Register

Keeping Metro Schools Cool: A ride-along with air conditioner repair

It’s seven a.m. and trucks are already rolling out onto Murfreesboro Road, headed to schools with air conditioning problems. The storm the previous night knocked out the A/C at twelve schools, and with classrooms nearly ready to receive teachers, there are several other jobs waiting, too.

Richard Hill and his ride.

Richard Hill, who has been working with the Metro Schools HVAC team for 34 years, drives one of those trucks. He knows a lot about heating and air and has seen a lot of change in his department, his schools, and the district. His father was a plumbing foreman for Nashville Public Schools starting in the 1950s – long before “Metro” even came into the picture.

He’s headed to Julia Green Elementary School, where four A/C problems were reported that very morning. Hill has to be versatile. He’s staring at four classrooms with three different problems and three different types of units.

Hill works as part of a team, but is personally responsible for 11 schools. In all there are 14 techs like him, six more dedicated to changing air filters, two mechanics for window units, three coordinators, and two more employees to run the energy management system. That’s 27 people responsible for heating and cooling more than 13 million square feet of occupied space, changing 50,000 air filters every year, and maintaining an average of 100 pieces of HVAC equipment at every campus.

A chain reaction led to a busted fan motor.

Job number one at Julia Green is a large outside unit used for a classroom and a hallway. He opens the panel to reveal a jumble of wires, circuit boards, coils, hoses, and tanks. The problem is clear: a busted bracket led to a busted fan blade and eventually a busted fan motor. It can’t be fixed today; parts have to be ordered and pieces taken apart. With such a complicated machine, when one part breaks, others are likely to follow.

The HVAC shop runs as its own well-oiled machine with dozens of moving parts, and work orders are run through a strict priority system. First, above all else, is Harris-Hillman School. Any big problem for the exceptional education students at Harris-Hillman, many of whom are medically fragile, immediately becomes priority number one. Second are elementary schools, because younger children are much more sensitive to temperature changes. Middle and high schools rank third and fourth, respectively. They also look at the size of the issue to determine priority, with widespread problems coming out ahead of single classroom issues.

You’ll notice the offices at Bransford Avenue are not on the priority list.

Urgent calls pop up, too. Sometimes whole schools lose heat or leaks cause standing water. Those hazards are treated as emergencies, and can throw a wrench into addressing other jobs.

Hill searches for the source of a water leak.

Job number two at Julia Green is a leaky A/C unit inside a classroom. A small puddle of water has collected underneath. Hill lies down on the floor to get a good look at the cause. He can’t get to the problem without removing the whole unit from the wall. Another seemingly simple problem with a complicated solution.

With 180 buildings of varied ages, the HVAC units are widely varied, too. Renovations at Julia Green led to newer units being installed alongside older ones of completely different types. That’s typical of schools across the district. But Hill and the other techs have the know-how fix them all. They work on circulating pumps, spray pumps, cooling towers, boilers, chillers, gas packs, heat pumps, VRT units and VRV units. They replace parts and fix units in closets, in classrooms, in ceilings, in basements, on grass, and on rooftops. They know their stuff.

Job number three is a non-starter. Floor waxing is in progress and Richard doesn’t want to disrupt the work or risk messing it up.

He’s used to that, though, and takes care not to upset normal operation of the school, even stopping to pick up bits of leaves he’s tracked in from outside. He often has to work around class schedules when on the job. Teachers may want the heat or air fixed right away, but they also don’t want loud vacuum pumps to run while they’re trying to teach or groups of kindergarteners distracted by ladders reaching up into the ceiling. That’s why Hill likes closet units – he can work all day long and not interrupt instruction. He always takes instruction into account.

Hill uses his hands and ears to find the problem.

Job number four is a closet unit. He suspects there’s a leaky hose, so he feels around and listens carefully for escaping and harmless nitrogen gas. Touch and hearing are simple enough tools for a man with decades of experience.

For the past 18 months, all school maintenance requests have been made through a computerized system called ‘SchoolDude,’ which automates and streamlines the process. When a work request is made, it’s automatically sent to the relevant repair department, prioritized, and marked ‘In Progress.’ Foremen know exactly what’s going on, who’s working on what, and how many orders each school has made – ever. Request records are not erased. That way, as HVAC foreman Mike Porter puts it, “If we have an on-going issue with one particular classroom, I can do a report and see exactly what’s going on.”

That improved communication with schools helps ease the repair process and ease the nerves of teachers, principals, and parents waiting for a repair.

A reminder of why they do what they do.

No one takes this job lightly. There are stats posted on the wall of the HVAC offices showing air conditioning to be the #1 building condition to affect student achievement. The men of the HVAC crew work hard and work often – there’s even one man each week designated for 24-hour on-call duty. But they can’t control the weather and they can’t stop the requests from coming in.

“During the year, you can say we average 25-30 work orders a day,” Porter says. “When school gets ready to start, when everybody comes back in, when kids start, we’ll average 75-80 work orders a day.

“I really, truly try to do 24-hour service, but sometimes it’s just not possible. It’s just not feasible all the time.”

When it gets hot, systems work harder than normal, and some may not be big enough to handle extreme heat. That can lead to breakdowns or freeze ups. More break downs means more requests, which can mean slower service.

But no one is forgotten. All Mike Porter, Richard Hill, and the rest of the team ask for is patience while they work their way through dozens of tickets.

“People gotta realize some of this equipment is 35 years old,” Porter says. “Harris-Hillman is a perfect example. The chiller that runs that school is 35 years old. It’s set for replacement this year, finally. That capital money we got – it helps. It really does help. To be able to put that money out there, where it needs to be in schools like Harris-Hillman is a huge help. Huge help.”

There are only so many HVAC repairmen to go around, but they do get around and they never lose focus on why they do what they do. As Porter puts it, “The whole reason why we’re here and why any of us has a job is for the students.”

See more photos of HVAC repair work

Insight into Metro Schools IT

There appears to be some confusion regarding the Metro Schools move to our own Active Directory system.  MNPS and Metro ITS meet regularly, work together on multiple projects and jointly want to create the most effective, efficient, secure environment while using tax dollars carefully.

As Keith Durbin said during his budget presentation to Metro Council, there are two major considerations with networks: technical and policy.  Technically almost anything is possible. In the policy area, MNPS and ITS have not always been able to reconcile business needs, security, and user access. 

The district has spent $235,000 this year to purchase servers, software and transition consulting services to reduce redundancy in our system. Our first-year savings will be $265,000 compared to using the current ITS system. Beginning in 2013-14, our savings will be $500,000 annually and service to our schools and students will expand and improve.

  • Moving MNPS employee accounts from ITS domain servers to MNPS domain servers eliminates redundant systems.  Currently, there are two main domains for Metro Schools:  mnps.org, operated under ITS, and mnpsk12.org operated by Metro Schools.  These are parallel systems, created years ago when schools needed functionality not allowed under ITS security policies.  By moving all accounts to a single domain, MNPS technicians will no longer have to duplicate all their work on two domains, nor will ITS technicians.  The end result is a simplified process.
  • The system being moved from ITS to MNPS, Active Directory/Exchange Server, gives each user specific permissions and access to resources.  MNPS has multiple systems that require tiered access.  For example, Chancery, which is the official student information system, has access levels for teachers, counselors, principals and central administration.  Each user’s access is limited to the data and resources needed to perform each job.  This increases functionality and meets federal (FERPA) requirements for protecting student information.  Under ITS policy, MNPS cannot create new access levels or prioritize requests—and every change to one system must be duplicated on two systems.
  • Our nationally recognized data warehouse has three levels of access:  classroom (teacher), school (principal) and district wide.  The Mayor and the public have called on the district to expand collaboration with community organizations and a new community access level will allow nonprofits to make data-based decisions to benefit our young people. ITS security policies prevent this. 
  • ITS operates 10,059 user accounts and mailboxes for MNPS.  The pro-rated cost for each mailbox is $50 per user per year for an annual internal service fee of $501,332 for email.  We are moving to Microsoft 365, which is free to education users.  It provides email service and mailbox storage space for each account that is 100 times larger than Metro ITS provides. In addition, MNPS pays an internal service fee to ITS for functions like payroll, HR and purchasing (EBS).
  • Under current ITS policies, there is a one-way “trust” between ITS and MNPS.  This means data cannot flow freely between Metro ITS and MNPS.  This creates problems for teacher-student communication as teachers are on ITS (mnps.org) and students are on MNPS (mnpsk12.org).  Metro ITS has advised their security policies will not allow a two-way process with MNPS data.  As the district moves toward things like Sharepoint, this would make collaborative functions between students and teachers impossible without considerable, ongoing workaround costs.
  • There has been a lot of discussion regarding networks.  Metro ITS operates a network serving 59 departments and agencies with 12,704 connections.  MNPS operates a network serving 143 schools and other buildings with more than 95,000 connections. These are separate networks because they have very different requirements. 
    • The school network is designed to include children. Metro ITS security policies will not allow children on its network.
    • Federal e-rate funding, only available to schools and libraries, pays for almost 80% of the MNPS network cost.
  • The chart below compares the two departments using information from the ITS annual report.

  ITS            MNPS                

Department & Agencies Supported (Schools & Admin)

59

143

Operating Budget

$15M

$11M

Desktop/Laptop Computers

6,419

50,485

Obsolete computers replaced

1,736

>6,000

Stored Data (in terabytes)

143

170

Network Connections

12,704

~95,000

Phone Lines

9,032

1,895*

Cell Phones

2,500

731

Staff

134

109

*NOTE because MNPS utilizes VoIP, these lines serve over 9,000 actual phones

I hope that these points help clear up any misunderstanding regarding computer networks, duplication of services and accountability.  We understand the security requirements of the Police Department and other departments served by Metro ITS are very different from the requirements of the school district. MNPS and Metro ITS meet regularly and want to create sound, secure electronic environments while protecting the interests of the tax-paying public.

Fred Carr

Chief Operating Officer

Metro Nashville Public Schools

Peabody Education Dean supports our plan for raising teacher pay

The Dean of Education at America’s number one school for teachers has given a whole-hearted endorsement of the Metro Schools plan to raise starting teacher pay.

In an open letter to Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, Dean Camilla Benbow of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University said she supports Metro Schools increasing the starting pay for teachers. The proposed salary schedule has starting teachers making $40,000, existing teachers receiving raises ranging from 1.9% to 8.2%, and all teachers reaching the top levels of pay in just 15 years rather than 25. This endorsement joins one from the Metro Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

You can read the full letter below, or click the link at the bottom of this post to see the letter itself.

If you’d like to join Dean Benbow in supporting the starting teacher pay increase, you can show your support by writing or calling the Metro Council and by coming to Council’s meeting on Tuesday, June 5.

Dear Dr. Register,

I am writing you in support of the MNPS effort to increase the starting salary of Nashville Public School teachers.

While teachers unions, policy-makers and the public can find much to disagree on when it comes to how to pay teachers, there’s little disagreement when it comes to the simple matter of a threshold, starting salary. A higher starting salary attracts more candidates and allows a district to be more selective in its hiring practices. This translates to more effective teachers for Nashville’s students. As you know, Peabody College prepares teachers drawn from a national pool of applicants. These students enter Vanderbilt with SAT scores far higher than what is typical  among schools of education nationwide. Based on their potential, it is certainly in Nashville’s interest to encourage these prospective teachers to remain here to begin their teaching careers. But at less than $35,000, the current MNPS starting salary for a beginning teacher with a bachelor’s degree is lower than the national average (approximately $37,500 in 2009-10 dollars), and well below the starting salaries in many of the urban areas from which our students come. We would love for more of our students to stay in Nashville and contribute to education in our community.

Polling data that Vanderbilt collected last fall suggest that the public would also be supportive of high starting salaries. Of 1,423 Tennesseans polled, 71 percent said that public school teachers in Tennessee were underpaid. Respondents ranked education as the No. 2 priority for state government. Perhaps now is the opportune time to initiate a salary increase.

Finally, I would add that not only would a higher starting salary help with teacher recruitment, it is also likely to help with retention. With nearly half of teachers leaving the profession in the first five years, a high starting salary, or increases in salary for early career teachers, may incentivize some to stay. Similarly, shortening the amount of time required for teachers to reach the top of the salary scale will enable MNPS to retain more of its experienced teacher workforce.

In short, we support MNPS’s proposal to increase teacher salaries. A favorable outcome is in the interest of Nashville’s children.

Sincerely,

Camilla Benbow
Patricia and Rodes Dean of Education and Human Development

See the Letter of Support from Peabody Dean Camilla Benbow

What’s this?

We are advocates for our students.

Since coming to this district as Director, Dr. Jesse Register has led under the philosophy of everyone working to support students and classrooms first. Everything we do can be tied to working for classroom success. It’s true of all employees, from teachers and principals to school bus dispatchers and construction project managers.

We’d like to share that philosophy with the rest of Nashville. Any talk of education or education issues must have students at its center. That is why we have created this blog.

Read more on our About page.