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.
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Building the future of magnet schools in Nashville

by Anna Kucaj, Coordinator of Magnet Schools

It is an exciting time to work with magnet schools here in Nashville.

While magnets aren’t new to Metro Schools, we’ve recently added new ones and are developing more for the future. Two years ago we welcomed six new thematic magnet schools to the fold providing theme-based programs that engage students in STEM (Hattie Cotton, Bailey, & Stratford), museum studies (Robert Churchwell & John Early), and the entertainment industry (Pearl-Cohn).

READ MORE on thematic magnets in Metro Schools

These schools converted to magnets through a grant from the U.S. Department of Education and keep us plenty busy. But we’re also gearing up to apply for the next round of funding offered by the Magnet School Assistance Program, meaning even more of our schools may offer enriching, hands-on programs like these.

Thanks to the optional schools process, we’ve had the chance to talk to students about what they like about their schools and to open our doors to parents looking to find the best fit for their children. We have also asked schools to show their interest in developing a magnet program by engaging parents, teachers, and community members in the process of identifying a theme and making a plan to serve students within their zone and across Davidson County.

It has been truly amazing to watch these groups join together and participate in conversations around new and innovative instruction that could provide even more options to Metro students and families.

Once schools have submitted their preliminary proposals, we will consult the U. S DOE guidelines and choose which schools to include in the application. We’ll work closely with those schools to develop a competitive grant application.

We believe in the theme-based magnet model. We have found that when students choose their school based on an interest in a theme, their level of engagement with the learning process increases, attendance increases, and discipline problems decline—all factors in successful schools and academic achievement.

In fact, Hattie Cotton STEM Magnet Elementary School was recently named a Tennessee Reward School for being in the top 5% of schools in the entire state for annual growth.  We are exceptionally proud of the hard work of Hattie Cotton students, teachers, staff and families that made such a tremendous achievement possible.

One thing we have found as we build these new magnet programs: it’s the people involved who make the difference. We have students who come to school each morning ready to engage, teachers who participate in professional development after school and during the summer, parents who bring their child to school every day – either from across the street or across town, and partners who give of their time and resources to share their expertise.

With all of us working together, our magnet programs are becoming stronger!

Litton Middle School’s new renovations and new attitude serve its East Nashville neighborhood

Apply to Litton Middle School

UPDATE: The official dedication of the new Isaac Litton Middle school brought out Rep. Jim Cooper, Mayor Karl Dean, Councilman Anthony Davis, and more! See a slideshow of photos from the ribbon cutting below.


Original post:
When I arrived at the newly renovated Isaac Litton Middle School, principal Tracy Bruno was fleeing the spray of a lawn sprinkler deployed to help the parched and newly planted landscaping. The grass may not have been prepared for the drought, but the school is prepared for more students and a higher profile in its East Nashville neighborhood.

“We are the epitome of a neighborhood school, right here in the middle of all these houses,” Bruno told me. And it’s true. Litton sits nestled between small, residential streets like Winding Way and Littonwood Drive right off Gallatin Pike.

The renovations that have taken place over the last year and a half have transformed the school into a building that looks practically new – and that’s because a lot of it is. The main office has been expanded. The library has a massive bank of new windows opening to the front lawn. The cafeteria is brand new and full of natural light. And the gym – once completely disconnected from the main building – has now been built out with new entrances, a new concession stand, and a host of new classrooms underneath it for fifth grade and related arts classes.

The rest of the building has been so spruced up, refinished, and painted that there is no disconnect between old and new. It all feels new to 2012. Just in time, too, because Bruno and his faculty have made it their mission to make Litton the neighborhood middle school in East Nashville.

“You can’t just sit around in your office and wait for kids to come to your school. You have to go out there and market your school and sell it, tell people the great things that are going on at your school because nobody’s going to do it for you.”

One of those great things happening at Litton is a strong focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. With new computers and projectors in every classroom, multiple iPad and netbook carts, and thousands of dollars in new STEM technology at the ready, Litton will prepare students to head right into Stratford STEM Magnet High School – another East Nashville neighborhood institution.

And Bruno’s mission to market his school isn’t self-serving. He sees in Litton the opportunity to bolster the sense of community that draws many people to East Nashville in the first place. He and his teachers have been working hard for the last year to make that happen, organizing events at feeder schools like Dan Mills Elementary and even going door-to-door to introduce themselves and build support for their school.

Fifth grade teacher Ashley Croft worked with the Martha O’Bryan Center on the Promise Neighborhood survey and used the opportunity to start building one-on-one relationships with the community.

“The whole idea was for parents and the community members to know that the teachers and the staff here care about the community,” Croft said. “And so showing up at their door for this survey – not even directly representing the school, but just for building community – I think it meant a lot to some parents.”

Bruno sees Litton’s zoned population, neighborhood placement, and STEM focus as advantages in an area filled with school options. Students in Litton’s neighborhood can choose among magnets, charters, and private schools. That’s a lot of competition in such a tight radius. But he sees plenty of reasons for parents to choose Litton.

“They live around the school. There’s familiarity. You have kids down the street that go to the same school your kids do. It’s just more of a community feel.” Indeed, listening to Bruno talk about what a neighborhood school can offer, he sounds a bit like a principal from a different era, working next to a doctor who makes house calls and a butter and egg delivery truck.

“I have no problem making a visit to a child’s house. I’ve had parents before who would call and say ‘Hey, my child missed the bus. I can’t get them there’ and I’ll go pick them up. It’s not a big thing, but the parents appreciate it. It could be a child who just doesn’t want to go to school. I will go to your house and talk to your child and tell them they need to go to school because sometimes parents need that help.”

And he expects a bit of reciprocity from parents; his open door policy means he is readily available to speak with parents, hear their concerns, and take their suggestions. “It helps the neighborhood take more ownership in the school and feel like they have a bigger part in the school and share as a stakeholder in the school.”

If Litton is the “epitome of a neighborhood school,” as Bruno boasts, then Bruno himself is the epitome of a great neighborhood principal, just like ones found all over Nashville in Metro’s other neighborhood schools. Principals from Joelton Elementary to Oliver Middle, Hermitage Elementary to Hillwood High build their schools the same way: to serve as resources and points of pride for their communities. Neighbors come to Overton football games donned head to toe in red and black. Long lines of early arriving parents gather outside Lakeview Elementary to chat and share stories from the school and the neighborhood.

That’s because our neighborhood schools are the neighborhoods they serve. Students live down the street, families play on the playgrounds, and school faculty and staff strive to better their communities through education.

Tracy Bruno can already see the change happening. “We have volunteers who were asking for things to do. That never happened three years previous. We had people at the doors asking, ‘What can I do to help Isaac Litton Middle School?’ That is a huge step in the right direction.”

With the new renovations, Litton has room to grow. And Bruno plans to fill it up.

“I want to see every classroom in this building filled with neighborhood kids. And I believe we can get there. There are enough students in East Nashville, in our cluster, in our zone, to fill this school up.”
His goal is to build a future for Litton where the young families now populating East Nashville feel great about sending their children there.

“I had a teacher in here last Monday who said ‘I will do whatever it takes to make my kids successful this year.’ When you have that kind of enthusiasm, the sky’s the limit.”

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.