What does a bank executive think about being principal for a day?

by Connie White, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations at Fifth Third Bank

As I walked up the stairs to start my first morning as Principal for a Day at East Nashville Magnet School, I wondered what the walls of this 80 year old school would tell me if they could talk. After my visit, again, I was curious what these walls will tell us in the next five years.

My prediction: I believe they will talk of the seniors who are better prepared, academically and socially, to be active members of society. I believe that 100% of the seniors will graduate, and even more students will gain and seize the opportunity a college education can bring. Yes I believe the walls will talk about reaping the harvest from the seeds sewn by the MNPS Paideia Lead Principal, Steve Ball, staff and teachers, in just a few years.

Why is this data geek (me), making a prediction without reviewing test scores? Engagement. Respect. Collaboration. Caring. Pride.

Yes, I saw all of that and more, when I recently had the privilege of visiting East Magnet Middle School and High School with Principal Steve Ball. I saw a team all focused on learning in an environment where students are encouraged to express their ideas and opinions. I saw students who were actively engaged and were taking responsibility of their quest for knowledge.

I wish you could have seen the fifth graders smile as they proudly gave articulate narratives about the outcome of a recent project using Power Point, posters, and props to make their points. Or if you’d seen every hand in the room eagerly waving to answer questions in science class, you might understand the level of enthusiastic engagement I saw. If you could hear the pride in Principal’s voice announcing in the morning call that two more seniors gained their college acceptance letters, you’d understand the caring for students. Or if you’d heard the students making their way to their next class continuously saying, “Good morning Principal Ball,” you could witness the mutual respect I experienced.

Admitting that I’d never seen such an engaged student body that seemed to have more interest in learning than social exchange at that age, I asked about it. “These students want to be here to learn,” said Principal Ball. I was somewhat astonished because in my high school days we thought about our dates, parties, and attire and talked about how we couldn’t wait to graduate to be on our own.

As we talked more, I learned that Principal Ball was responsible for bringing the Paideia education process to East Nashville Magnet Schools, a process where students actively engage in intellectual discussions and learn from each other. Using this process to discuss current issues, students also learn the art of collaboration as they learn to listen and value many ideas and opinions. I came to respect this process and understood that students could practice this process to learn throughout their life’s journey, whether in school, the business world or their community.

If you ever gain the opportunity to visit East Nashville Magnet School, I encourage you to go. I promise you, it will be worth every minute of your time to witness a team that focuses on equipping children with a good academic base, social and learning skills for life… and the academic knowledge to exceed national test scores.

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Metro Nashville Public Schools is a District on the Rise

Our mission in Metro Schools is to be the first choice for families – all families. We are on our way to meeting that mission because we are a district on the rise.

Enrollment in public schools is up, at its highest levels since the mid 1970s. That’s because we’re giving Nashville more. Student test scores are up, our standing with the state is higher than it has been in years, and our students are reaching greater levels of achievement. Their hard work – along with that of teachers, administrators, and support teams – has positioned our city as a bright spot in education reform and growth. We are becoming a model of success, setting the example for districts across the country.

One reason is because we have academic rigor at the end of every yellow school bus route in Nashville.

Students are preparing for college with Advanced Placement classes, available in every high school, with even more offered through the MNPS Virtual School. The International Baccalaureate Programme at Hunters Lane and Hillsboro High Schools offers an internationally recognized diploma. The experiences students gain and the lessons they learn in the Academies of Nashville bloom far beyond the classroom, into college lecture halls and diverse career choices. Through dual enrollment with area colleges and universities, they are racking up college credits in high school, even earning associate degrees as well as diplomas.

Those classes aren’t full – yet. We have room for more students in both AP classes and the IB Programme, with even more available through our Virtual School, where students can take core subjects and nearly any AP class out there. We’re rewarding students for taking these harder, more advanced classes by changing the way grade point averages (GPAs) are calculated.  AP, IB, dual enrollment, and honors classes are now given greater weight in the GPA formula. We want all students to seek tough classes and get a leg up in college.

Neighborhood schools continue to offer broad educational choices: STEM, Montessori, Spanish immersion, Chinese language, fine and performing arts, literature, and Paideia are just a taste of the choices available from pre-kindergarten through high school, giving Nashvillians a rich educational portfolio.

These efforts have been showing big results for years – more graduates, fewer drop outs, higher test scores, more student engagement, and a place in the national conversation on education reform.

As Race to the Top proved, Tennessee is an American leader in education reform – and Nashville is at the center of it. Our educators are training others across the state in how to use the new Common Core Standards. They are leading national organizations like the National Association of Elementary School Principals and showcasing our successful programs as models for other districts to follow. Several of our high school Academies have received national awards, including five that now serve as nationwide models for other schools.

Our progress can accelerate with the continued support of our city. We are fortunate to have city leaders who believe in public schools. Families and communities work hard to support their schools through volunteering, fundraising, and parent participation. Our district needs that support to continue the steady march toward our mission.

As the conversation about public education in Nashville grows, it becomes more and more important for all of our stakeholders – parents, students, employees, taxpayers, city leaders – to see the change for themselves.  Visit your zoned schools. Talk to teachers. Talk to students. Talk with those directly affected by what happens in our classrooms.

Made up of nearly 150 exceptional schools, our district is on the cusp of greatness. We want to be the first choice for Nashville’s families.