Dr. Register calls for civility, formal cooperation in the education community

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register delivered these remarks to the Metro Council Education Committee on Thursday, July 10, 2014:

Chairman Glover, members of the Council Education Committee, and other Council members, after Steve talked to me about this session, I asked for a moment at the start of the meeting to say a few words to you about our school system in general and specifically about today’s briefing on Public Charter Schools. Your decision to meet as the Education Committee of the Metro Council on this important topic is both farsighted and commendable. Thank you for taking the time to be here today.

I know I am taking advantage of my long-standing relationship with Chairman Glover with this request to address you, but without his involvement six years ago, I might not be standing here today as your superintendent, as Steve was the first person from Nashville to ask me to apply for this job. I appreciate this opportunity to say a few words, not as your director of schools necessarily, but as an educator, someone who cares deeply about public education and particularly about our school system and our children.

First I want to commend the Council and Mayor Dean for the significant investments in funding public education in Nashville you have made during my tenure here. We could not do what we do without your help and support. Thank you.

Let me start this off by saying what I hope all of you already know—we have a really good school system in this city with a strong foundation, great leaders and committed wonderful teachers. We have pockets of notable excellence and, of course, we still have a few areas of weakness. We are absolutely on the right path, but that path is not always easy.

As my official time as the leader of this community’s education system begins to wind down, and as I consider my experience as a lifelong educator and longtime superintendent, I want to tell you that your school system has the potential to be great…not just good or adequate, or OK, but truly great. The possibilities are endless, our goals are absolutely attainable, and the future is bright.

As all of you know, we have over the last few years experienced transformational change in the way we approach the education of our children in this community and across the nation. These changes have greatly increased the amount and the intensity of education-related discourse in our neighborhoods and across the city, as well as in the media.

The on-going, and frankly sometimes passionate, discussion about this important topic is good. Passion around the education of our children should be encouraged and celebrated. But over the last year or so there has been a steady and ever increasing tendency toward miscommunication and gamesmanship in our dialog and a push for polarization in our ongoing discussions about the future of public education in this city. These actions have created distrust and hard feelings where understanding and common purpose once ruled the day.

In the very near past when we disagreed, we did so respectfully. Not so today. It has at times become mean and personal. We have lost civility in our dialogue on education reform in general and, regrettably, particularly as it concerns our public charter schools. This loss of civility has caused good people and quality institutions that have the same basic goals—the quality education of future generations of Nashvillians–to take sides and develop an unhealthy “us” versus “them” mentality.

I think that most in the room will agree with me….enough is enough! This is not some sort of game where it’s OK to judge “winning or losing” by which press release or pithy statement gets printed in the newspaper or gets highlighted on the nightly news, or gets the most play on social media. This is not about a campaign to discredit one person or another because they may disagree with you; it should be about, and only be about, what’s best for our school system and developing and maintaining great schools for our children.

When we take a step back and really think about it, the biggest losers in this kind of scorched earth campaign-style approach to our discussion about schools of choice are our children. I believe this type of behavior needs to stop and it needs to stop now. If you agree with me, I ask for your help.

I am asking all of you tonight, individually as important opinion leaders in our community, and as members of the Council, to join me in finding the most effective way to immediately transition our dialog to a place where this community, and our school system, can find stability and reinstate a collaborative and transparent environment where innovation and true partnership can flourish. A place where all ideas are discussed respectfully. A place where the best ideas rise to the top and are implemented. And a place where bad or outdated ideas are simply left behind.

I plan to ask my partners over the coming days and weeks – Mayor Dean, Vice Mayor Neighbors and this Council, our state legislative delegation led by Speaker Harwell, Governor Haslam’s administration, community partners like the Public Education Foundation, Nashville’s Agenda, the Chamber of Commerce, SCORE, The United Way, the Charter community, and of course, our School Board, to join this effort.

It’s my desire that over the next few weeks and months we can address and eliminate the hard feelings that have developed and reinstate a constructive climate of trust and true collaboration. Why do I think this is so vitally important? Because our future, I believe, depends on it.

The next mayor of this city and the next superintendent of your school system will have an exciting opportunity presented to them as they transition into their new roles. These opportunities include the opportunity to take public education in Nashville to new heights of excellence. But I respectfully submit to you that if we aren’t thinking about how we reset the conversation on public education in this city, right now—tonight, starting right here in his chamber, this very instant–the new mayor and the new superintendent are going to find themselves in a precarious place and will be less able to take our system to the next level. This meeting today is the perfect context for this topic.

It is absolutely critical that the District embrace the important role that our education colleagues in the charter school sector play in the future of education in Nashville. I know that this District’s charters are by and large very successful. It is evident that we are seeing outstanding educational gains from public charter schools as well as from other schools of choice and many of our zoned schools.

While I am so very proud of all of these schools, I acknowledge there is a real and pressing need to literally reset the conversation about charters and other schools of choice. Specifically, I want to immediately jump start the process of determining best practices associated with what makes charters and other high performing schools work for our parents and children, and to facilitate the implementation of some of those ideas across our system. I hope the charter community will agree to assist me with this important work.

To that end, and as a first step, I am asking the Charter Center to work with me to convene a monthly meeting with charter school leaders, Dr. Coverstone, and other members of my senior staff, and any willing members of the Board of Education. There is so much common ground that exists among these individuals and institutions and we simply need to work harder to find and exploit this for the benefit of our children. We should be about this work starting tomorrow morning.

In the end, the question that we seem to have missed in the ongoing and overheated debate about charter schools is really very simple: How we can utilize our district assets—all district assets–especially our high performing schools that are built around some level of choice and excellence to ensure that our children, ALL OF OUR CHILDREN, regardless of where they reside, or where they go to school, can achieve to their highest potential.

To that end, I will be reaching out to my partners in the Nashville educational community (generally as we did with our recent attrition study) to have them assist the District in conducting in-depth research that will assist us in analyzing our financial practices to make sure that we are giving adequate weight to educational quality, results, and “return on our investment” in our District funding models. This research, when completed, will advance and build upon the limited initial work of the fiscal impact study that is currently underway, such that when both studies are complete we, and our constituents, partners, and funders, will have a more robust and complete, comprehensive and unbiased understanding of what it takes to lead our schools to the results we desire and that our children richly deserve.

In conclusion, I want to reset the conversation about the future of public education in Nashville. We must learn and build on our best practices from all high-performing schools to improve practices in every school. Most importantly, I want to renew a sincere spirit of civility, cooperation, and optimism when we agree, and lead a respectful, meaningful and constructive dialogue when we don’t. Over the next year, I am committed to doing everything I can, professionally and personally, to position Metro Schools to move toward being a world-class school system for this community. On this you have my word. Thank you Mr. Chairman for indulging me this courtesy, and thank you all for all you do every single day for this great city.

The Budget: World Class Music for Every Student

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Item: Music Makes Us
  • Investment: $723,400

by Laurie Schell, Director of Music Makes Us

Springtime in Nashville – flowering pear trees, red maple, dogwood in bloom. And music in our schools. Lots of it.

A joint effort of Metro Schools, Mayor Karl Dean and music industry and community leaders, the Music Makes Us initiative is quickly becoming a presence in the community because of the community. We are becoming a district known for its world class music education thanks to the leadership of Mayor Karl Dean, Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register, the Music Makes Us Advisory Council members and the Nashville music and arts community.

Just a sampling of this spring’s musical endeavors shows how far we’ve come:

  • East Nashville Magnet School Choir working a gig with Ben Folds.
  • Meigs Magnet Middle School Wind Ensemble performing at the annual Tennessee Music Education Association Convention.
  • Mariachi Internacional de Nashville from Glencliff High School performing at the GRAMMY Block Party.
  • Disney Musicals in the Schools in partnership with the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in 15 schools serving elementary, middle and special needs students.
  • ASCAP songwriters teaching their craft at Hillwood, Overton and Nashville School of the Arts High Schools.

Music education is part of the big picture. A recent research study called Prelude: Music Makes Us Baseline Research Report (2013) shows music participation in Metro Schools has important direct and indirect effects on school engagement and academic achievement. Music participation makes a significant, positive difference in student attendance, discipline, grades, graduation rates and test scores. Overall, the more a student participates in music, the more positive these benefits become.

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Proof the Music Makes Us is making a difference: Watch the inspiring story of Rex Yape and his incredible talent.

For Metro students, music is the language of opportunity and access. Founding donors and key partners, including Martha Ingram, Gibson Guitars, Big Machine, Curb Records, Warner Music Nashville, Little Kids Rock and KHS America have enabled us to launch signature contemporary programs that engage more students in making music. Of the 40 new contemporary classes added in middle and high schools, the mariachi, world percussion, songwriting and hip hop classes in particular are reaching students outside of traditional music. Some students are recent immigrants, with limited English proficiency. Some see the contemporary classes as more accessible for those with little prior musical experience. All are gaining valuable skills and knowledge.

Programs are still growing. The Country Music Association Foundation’s Keep the Music Playing program in Metro Schools is creating lasting impact, with their $7 million contribution over the past 7 years. The new instruments have enabled our chorus, band and orchestra programs to reach new heights of musical achievement. This is reflected in the 16% increase in the number of ensembles participating in Concert Performance Assessment in 2013 and in their improved rating. 69% improved their overall rating or remained at the superior level for 2 consecutive years.

We aren’t just blowing our own horn. It’s official! The NAMM Foundation recognizes Metro Nashville Public Schools for its outstanding commitment to music education with a Best Communities for Music Education (BCME) designation. Metro Schools joins 376 districts across the country to receive the prestigious distinction in 2014. In its 15th year, Best Communities for Music Education affirms school districts that have demonstrated exceptional efforts toward maintaining music education as part of the schools’ core curriculum.

Music is in the air.

For more information, visit http://musicmakesus.org.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Technology and Training
Part 4 – Literacy
Part 5 – World Class Music Education for Every Student

Metro Schools officials have a budget hearing with the Metro Council scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: Literacy

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Dramatic Literacy Gains
  • Investment: $1.29 million

We have set very ambitious goals for our district. Our strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, calls for 71% of all students to score proficient or advanced on state assessments by 2018. That’s going to take a lot of work and some pretty dramatic gains.

How do we make them? To meet ambitious goals, we need an ambitious plan. It has to address overall instruction so we’re improving in every classroom while also giving intensive support to schools with large percentages of struggling students.

To make the gains we need in reading and language arts, we’ve developed a full literacy plan with two parts, both designed to deliver big results:

  1. Highly targeted intervention programs for students reading below grade level.
  2. Expert partnerships for continuous improvement of everyday classroom instruction.

Intervention

The key to intervention is to see where individual students stand academically and meet them at that level. Teachers can focus on their strengths and their weaknesses to catch them up to grade level. That’s what personalized learning is all about.

To make this happen, we want to hire Reading Recovery teachers who are dedicated to helping kids catch up. They will work with small groups and individuals for intensive literacy instruction leading to mastery.

We also want to open reading clinics with one-on-one tutoring and online intervention programs. These can be spread around the city and even move from school to school as needed.

Improved Instruction

To make sure our everyday classroom literacy instruction is and remains top notch, we will train literacy coaches and school literacy teams who can work with all teachers on how to improve their instruction and student outcomes. Through a partnership with Lipscomb University, recently named one of the top four teacher prep programs in the country, these coaches will get year-long literacy training.

To oversee all of this, we have a Director of Literacy with a focused vision for reading instruction from prekindergarten to 12th grade. This is the kind of intensive support our students need and the level of attention they deserve.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Technology and Training
Part 4 – Literacy
Part 5 – World Class Music Education for Every Student

Metro Schools officials have a budget hearing with the Metro Council scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: Technology and training

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Technology to improve instruction and training teachers to use it
  • Investment: $1.3 million for technology and $1.3 million for training

In five years, Metro Schools can be the highest-performing urban district in the country. Our strategic plan, Education 2018: Excellence for Every Student, lays out specific strategies to get there.

The key to the entire plan is personalized learning for every student. To do that, we must transform the way we teach and manage classrooms through technology. We are already heavily invested in that transformation thanks to the federal Race to the Top grant. By continuing our investment, we will achieve our goals.

The Metro Schools Learning Technology team is second to none in the United States. Dr. Kecia Ray, who leads the team, is the president of the International Society for Technology in Education and was recently named one of “20 to Watch in Education Technology” by the National School Boards Association.

Combined with the very best teaching, our learning technology plan will ensure our students get more instruction targeted to their specific needs and abilities.

Our learning technology plan has three key parts:

  1. Software to make classrooms more efficient
    Rather than making teachers use a half dozen or more different systems, we’ve brought together all of our computer-based instruction into a single program called SchoolNet.SchoolNet puts everything right at a teacher’s fingertips: lesson plans, standards, data, best practices and more. Further, it helps teachers report and analyze data so they can personalize instruction based on individual student needs.By making it easier to access and interpret all this information in one place, teachers save time and have a more complete picture of each student’s performance and needs.
  2. Software to personalize learning for teachers
    Personalization doesn’t stop at students. Teachers will get targeted professional development from a library of lessons called PD360. Just as the teacher analyzes a student’s performance and decides the best approach for instruction, the PD360 library can give targeted professional development aligned with each teacher’s individual needs.
  3. Online student instruction
    Mirroring many colleges and professional work environments, all Metro Schools graduates are expected to have taken at least one class online. The MNPS Virtual School offers a full slate of online courses for full- and part-time students. Teachers can also take professional development courses online. All of these online courses are delivered through software called Blackboard, which was originally funded through Race to the Top.

This technology is great and is vital to personalized learning, but what does that matter if teachers aren’t trained to use it?

Our All-Star Training program, already well underway, is the largest professional development program we’ve ever undertaken. Every single teacher in Metro Schools will finish it by July 1, 2014. It shows teachers how to make best use of the technology we provide, how to align their work with the Common Core State Standards and PARCC assessments, and how they can share their best practices and borrow great ideas from other teachers. Nearly 10 percent of our classroom teachers have already completed the training (as of early April).

When they complete the training, teachers receive a laptop. That way we give them to know-how and the tools to personalize learning for every student.

This training could soon be a national best practice. Public school districts from Memphis, San Diego and New York City, as well as private companies, have approached us about using our All-Star training.

To continue our successes and build more in the future, we must keep investing in the technology that will help get us there.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Technology and Training
Part 4 – Literacy
Part 5 – World Class Music Education for Every Student

Metro Schools officials have a budget hearing with the Metro Council scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: A pay raise for all teachers and staff

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms. 

  • Budget Priority: Teacher and Staff Pay Raises and Other Compensation
  • Investment: $8 million

Under the 2014-15 budget request, all Metro teachers and staff would receive a two percent pay raise. Most years, the Governor calls for a statewide teacher pay raise that the state helps fund. His proposed budget does not include a statewide raise this year, but Metro Schools wants to recruit and retain the best.

By funding a teacher and staff raise locally, we reward the hard working educators who are helping Nashville students make real, measurable progress. We also keep pace with other districts and other states and stay competitive in teacher pay.

If we want a great teacher in every Metro classroom, we have to be able to attract teachers from all over the country and develop and retain them once they get here. More than half our early career teachers whose students make significant gains year after year tell us they do not plan to stay at Metro Schools for their entire careers.

There aren’t many teachers who teach for the money, but competitive pay is still crucial to effective teacher recruitment and retention.

A two percent raise for all 6,000 teachers would cost around $7.3 million, while the same raise for support staff is $2 million.

Other cost increases in compensation aren’t a choice. They are required. Those include increases in pension and retiree insurance. But thanks to savings from our retirement incentive program ($3.4 million) and FICA contributions ($1.6 million), those costs are offset somewhat.

While we cannot be certain about any pay raises until the Metro Council approves a final budget amount in June, we believe a pay raise for all employees rewards the hard work and improvements happening in our schools and will keep our district on track to attract and retain the very best teachers and staff.

Read More in the Budget Series:
Part 1 – Prekindergarten
Part 2 – Teacher and Staff Pay Raises
Part 3 – Technology and Training
Part 4 – Literacy
Part 5 – World Class Music Education for Every Student

Metro Schools officials have a budget hearing with the Metro Council scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

The Budget: Expanding prekindergarten pays off big dividends

The Board of Education approved the 2014-15 budget request on April 8. It calls for a $32.5 million increase over last year. That increase includes $17.3 million in required spending like inflation and payouts to charter schools. The rest is made up of strategic priorities to improve instruction in our classrooms.

  • Budget Priority: Adding 340 New Prekindergarten Seats
  • Investment: $3.4 million for hiring teachers, buying equipment, developing curriculum and more

Less than half of students coming into kindergarten in Metro Schools have access to affordable, high-quality preschool programs. Right now in our own prekindergarten classes, we can only serve about 2,500 kids. Head Start serves another 1,400 children, and private providers serve more, but many families who want and need pre-K are not served.

There are more than 1,100 children on our pre-k wait list. We need to change that.

One of our top budget priorities this year is to start expanding pre-k now so we can serve all eligible families in Davidson County by 2018. The first step is adding 340 new high-quality pre-k seats next year in strategically located Pre-k Model Learning Centers.

We’ve already talked about the whys and the research extensively, so let’s get into the particulars that give this plan the potential for success for a relatively small investment.

The Board of Education has approved turning Ross and Bordeaux Elementary Schools into model pre-k centers, as well as opening new classrooms in the Casa Azafran community center on Nolensville road. These centers will provide:

  • Exemplary teachers and assistant teachers in every classroom with knowledge of early childhood development
  • Instructional leaders focused on creating centers of excellence in staff development
  • Intensive focus on language development, early math skills and multicultural programming
  • Priority placed on children’s social-emotional development and executive function
  • Full-day programming (8:00 am to 3:00 pm), with before and after-care options
  • Strong parent engagement, including parent education, to support student learning at home
  • Partnerships to ensure comprehensive health and social services for students and families

The Model Learning Centers won’t just serve students, but teachers, too. Pre-k teachers from across Nashville will come to the Centers to learn best practices and get professional development.

To focus on that instructional quality in addition to classroom quantity, we’re partnering with the Peabody Research Institute at Vanderbilt University to help us develop the program and the best practices to be modeled in these centers. We are also working with Head Start, the United Way, Conexion Americas and other experts in community service to better serve the whole child and provide wrap-around services for families. If families and children have access to what they need outside school, they have a better chance for success in school.

The need for more pre-k seats is particularly urgent now, as changes to Tennessee kindergarten age requirements mean as many as 800-1,000 Nashville children will be left without an affordable, high-quality early learning option. If we want to see real progress in educational outcomes in Nashville, we have to start early. That means getting more students into pre-k, where they can be adequately prepared for a rich and rewarding K-12 learning experience.

Metro Schools officials will meet with Mayor Dean for a budget hearing on Wednesday, April 16, at 11:00 a.m. in the Mayor’s Office. The hearing with Metro Council is scheduled for June 4 at 4:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers. Wear blue to show your support for Metro Schools.

Facts on district revenue and per-pupil spending

In past articles, we’ve shown you how much money we get and where it all goes.

Our community deserves an honest dialogue – without ideology and special interest talking points – about school funding that includes a fair assessment of needs, expenses, and revenue.

So let’s talk for a moment about where money comes from and under what circumstances we get more of it.

Where does revenue come from?

About a third of our operating budget comes from the State of Tennessee. They give us a certain amount of money per student and according to what kind of student. When more students enroll, our revenue from the state goes up, to the tune of about $3,200 per student.

The other two-thirds comes from the Metro Government, paid from county taxes and allocated by the Mayor’s Office and the Metro Council. The amount of money we get from the Metro Government is fixed. It is not tied to a per-student formula the way state money is.

This year our enrollment is up by nearly 1,800 students. About a third of our revenue (from the state) reflected that increase. The other two-thirds of our revenue (from the Metro Government) remained flat.

[NOTE: We received a $26 million increase in our operating budget from the 2012-13 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Of this $26 million, $12 million came from our own fund balance, $10 million came from the state and $4 million came from Metro Government.]

How does that money move around the district?

It’s a phrase people use a lot: per-pupil spending. Metro Schools spends around $9,100 per pupil in grades K-12. When a student moves from one school to another, the money theoretically follows him.

If the student leaves his neighborhood school and moves into a magnet school, he is moving from one district-operated school to another. The money attached to him stays in the same pot of district money and our per-pupil spending amount stays the same.

When a student leaves his neighborhood school – or a magnet school – for a charter school, the $9,100 moves to the charter management organization that runs the charter.

When a student leaves a district school for a private school, the money does not follow him to the private school. The district loses the state revenue associated with that student, but the private school does not get it. The funding from Metro Government is unchanged. The private school gets private money in the form of tuition.

The expenses of the neighborhood school don’t increase with every additional student and don’t decline with every student departure. The school is spending the same amount to keep its lights on and its hallways clean. The school still has teachers to pay and technology to buy and maintain.

Innovative practices that are designed to quickly improve achievement could face tough times, like extended learning time, model classrooms and certain kinds of school-level professional development.

What’s the solution?

Our strategic plan calls for more equitable use of resources, placing money where it’s needed most for fair service of students. We are already moving toward a model that puts more money directly in the hands of principals, allowing them to spend money in ways that will most directly benefit the unique needs of their students. That will help everyone decide best allocation of existing resources and ensure that money is spent in the most effective ways.

But what about revenue?

The answer will come from a community discussion of school finances. We must have an honest and open dialogue about revenue and expenses. The Board of Education began that conversation this fall, well in advance of the usual budget cycle.

This issue has wide-reaching effects, beyond just budgeting and buying textbooks. It can affect a school’s character and existence.

Let’s look at it at the individual school level. When a school is constantly threatened with drastic budget cuts or even closure, it has a more difficult time attracting students, which leads to further budget reductions.

It is a cycle that puts even more of a burden on teachers and principals to properly educate the students they already have.