Dr. Jesse Register calls on East Nashville to help build a plan for creating more high-quality school choices

Metro Schools to form community advisory committee

Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register is calling for a formal community advisory committee to help build a plan for the future of East Nashville public schools. Together with on-going faculty and parent meetings, this committee represents a full commitment to community input and participation in the development of a plan for turning around low-performing schools and ensuring high-quality educational choices for all students in East Nashville.

Dr. Register is working closely with schools, leaders and stakeholder groups to form the East Nashville Priority Schools Advisory Committee. It will be made up of community-appointed representatives who can speak on behalf of their peers and unify East Nashville behind quality public education.

“This advisory committee is a natural outgrowth of the parent meetings we’ve been having for the last three weeks,” said Dr. Register. “I’ve already met with hundreds of parents. Many of them have different opinions, but we’re hearing common themes come up again and again – most notably their shared desire with us to have high-quality neighborhood schools. The next step for us is to bring together a group of representative voices to focus the conversation into substantive, usable recommendations from the community.”

The committee will be made up of 20 representatives, all appointed by important stakeholders in this issue. Members will meet regularly to receive a progress update on the planning process from the district’s administration and report the feedback and ideas of the community. The end goal is to develop general consensus on recommendations that represent community and stakeholder opinions that can be used in finalizing a proposal for the Board of Education.

Dr. Register added, “This committee will help ensure every voice in East Nashville is heard. Together, we can build a community of successful schools for all students.”

Committee appointments are expected in the coming days, with a meeting schedule to be decided soon.

Expected appointments:

  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster parent
  • Board member Jill Speering will appoint one Maplewood Cluster student
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster parent
  • Board member Elissa Kim will appoint one Stratford Cluster student
  • Councilman Peter Westerholm will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Anthony Davis will appoint one Stratford Cluster community member
  • Councilman Scott Davis will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Councilman Karen Bennett will appoint one Maplewood Cluster community member
  • Kirkpatrick Elementary principal Mildred Nelson will work with parents to appoint a Kirkpatrick parent; Ms. Nelson will also appoint a Kirkpatrick teacher
  • Inglewood Elementary principal Carrie Mickle will work with parents to appoint an Inglewood parent; Ms. Mickle will also appoint an Inglewood teacher
  • Bailey Middle principal Christian Sawyer will work with parents to appoint a Bailey parent; Dr. Sawyer will also appoint a Bailey teacher
  • Jere Baxter Middle principal Miriam Harrington will work with parents to appoint a Jere Baxter parent; Ms. Harrington will also appoint a Jere Baxter teacher
  • Register will work with the district’s lead principals to appoint a principal from one priority school
  • East Nashville charter school leaders will appoint one representative
  • East Nashville United will appoint one representative
  • Community PTO will appoint one representative

On the Job: Metro teachers’ attendance rate higher than “national average”

95.8% attendance rate in 2012-13 flies in the face of recent study

Did you see this report? It comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a think tank in Washington, D.C. The study claims more than two-thirds of Nashville teachers are “frequently absent,” meaning they miss anywhere from 11-17 days in the classroom each year.

This study makes several broad assumptions and big leaps. Chief among them is the definition of “absence.” In explaining its methodology, the authors say explicitly, “Professional development and other job-related absences that would require students to be taught by a substitute were included.”

We do not consider teachers taking professional development days to be absent, nor do we consider that a detriment to the students. When teachers are out of the classroom for full days of professional development, they are learning new skills and methods to improve instruction. That definitely benefits their students.

Using the study’s methodology, the authors come up with a teacher attendance rate of 92.38% for 2012-13. When you look purely at sick days and disability days, as we do, that rate is actually 95.8% – well above the 94% national average the authors calculate. Preliminary numbers for teacher attendance in 2013-14 look to hit 96.2% – an even further improvement.

Further, the study assumes that days spent with a substitute teacher harm students academically. We reject this assumption. As a district, we have strengthened our substitute teacher pool by requiring each candidate to complete a training program and pass a test. Once approved, each substitute teacher enters the classroom with experience in instruction, classroom management and working with students. The old days from years ago of substitute teachers effectively “babysitting” students are over. Substitute teachers in Metro Schools give instruction.

From the article linked at the top:

“‘While these big-city school districts are struggling to improve student achievement, they may be overlooking one of the most basic aspects of teacher effectiveness: every teacher being regularly on the job, teaching kids,’ said Kate Walsh, president of the Washington think tank that advocates for reform in recruiting, retaining and compensating teachers. It receives its money from private foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”

We take teacher attendance very seriously and are making every effort to improve it. The numbers bear that out. We also believe our teachers are hard working and dedicated to their students. This study takes a much broader definition of “absence” than is reasonable, and its conclusions are suspect.

For the curious, here’s what teachers are allowed per year:

  • 10 sick days
  • 5 professional development days
  • 2 personal days

2013 brings fundamental change to the way our schools are run

2013 will be a year of big changes for Metro Schools.

Sure, we’ve had more than a few big changes in the last few years, but if you’re feeling “reform fatigue” don’t fret. This plan for transformation is an evolution of what we’ve already done: expanding it, adjusting it and learning from what’s working.

We could feel the disappointment last month when word trickled in that we had not won the Race to the Top District competition. That extra $30-40 million dollars would have made a huge impact on the plans for transforming our schools.

But that disappointment didn’t last long. We knew the blueprint for success laid out in our application was solid and would still move forward. Without the extra boost that money would have provided we may have to change pace, but the transformation will go on.

It’s a plan based on the individual: individual students, teachers, principals, classrooms and schools. It’s a plan to decentralize power and decision-making in our district, moving from a top-down, Central Office power structure to alliances of schools that decide what works best and how to replicate it.

Every student in the schools first targeted by this plan – 27,000 of them – will have a personalized learning plan. These plans will be created by students, teachers and parents. They will be fluid, changing based on the very latest data from assessments done throughout the year, and will allow us act more quickly when intervention is needed. Students will learn at their own speeds without waiting for the rest of the class to catch up or struggling to keep pace with their classmates. No two plans will look the same.

Many of these changes in learning will be driven and designed by principals who have proven successful in their own schools. These Lead Principals will bring together networks of 4-5 schools and lead by example through mentoring and collaborating with other schools that are committed to personalized learning for students. Methods and strategies that work in one school will be replicated in another. Best practices from teachers and leaders will be shared across the district. And all of this will be done with a common accountability framework, as well as some non-negotiables and more autonomy from the central organization.

Individual principals will be empowered under this plan because who knows better what a school needs than the person who spends hours each week walking its halls and talking to its students, teachers and parents? School leaders will be given more decision-making power over hiring, budgeting, scheduling, curriculum offerings, and more. They will be responsible and held accountable for these decisions and the structures put in place to meet the needs of their learners.

There will be a shift toward greater school autonomy. With reductions in staff in the Central Office and greater power inside our schools, principals will be able to respond more quickly to the unique needs of every student.

In some cases this could lead to a radically different school culture. Students will benefit from closer relationships among students and teachers, students and students. There could be more shared learning among subjects, classrooms with more than one teacher and new leadership opportunities for teachers that won’t take them out of the classroom. Students will lead parent-teacher conferences and parents will get hands-on with their child’s data. We’ll also be changing the way we think about how students make progress, looking much more closely at mastery rather than time spent on a task.

We will make our schools more agile and responsive to the individual because that is what the 21st century requires. We must prepare students for careers that don’t yet exist. We need them to be motivated, engaged and in charge of their own learning. Lifelong learners, those who can quickly adapt to change and those with the cultural literacy our diverse schools provide will thrive in our globally connected society.

Our plan for radical school transformation will make that happen.

Support for higher teacher pay spreads across Tennessee

Hats off to the Achievement School District for announcing last month a plan to offer teacher salaries of $62,500 – and all the way up to $90,000 – in its Memphis schools. This is exactly the right direction for teacher pay to take in Tennessee: upward.

The citizens of Nashville showed their support for higher teacher pay last year when Mayor Karl Dean and the Metro Council worked to approve the Metro Schools operating budget, which included raising starting teacher pay to $40,000.

Because of that important step, we are a competitive player in the nationwide search for the best teachers. We saw an immediate increase in interest from our teacher candidates.

It’s wonderful to see that support for teachers spread to the other side of the state, and to have it supported by the Tennessee Department of Education.

We hope that commitment continues and carries over into statewide education policy, allowing all of us to attract the very best teachers out there.

Two teachers at Metro Schools named Nashvillians of the Year for 2012

Nashvillians of the Year Cover Photo

Cover courtesy of The Nashville Scene and photographer Michael W. Bunch

What a way to end 2012.

Two teachers in Metro Schools have been named Nashvillians of the Year by the Nashville Scene. Adam Taylor of Overton High School and Christina McDonald of Nashville Prep Charter School represent the teachers who “give Nashville’s schoolchildren, no matter what their background, a fighting chance to reach their brightest future.”

In a lengthy and detailed article, reporter Steven Hale lays out the bare – and sometimes forgotten – fact in our city’s current debate over education: whether charter school or district school, great teachers are at the center of great education.

It’s a great piece, and I strongly recommend you take a few moments to read the full article so you can see how teachers like Christina and Adam can bring the focus of the education discussion back where it belongs.

The Scene would like to refocus the discussion of public education not on differences and squabbles, but on the enormous asset that charter and public schools have in common: the teachers who are the most active, direct agents of hope Nashville’s children will face outside the home. As our 2012 Nashvillians of the Year, the Scene honors two such instructors: one from a charter school, Christina McDonald at Nashville Prep, and one from a traditional Metro district school, Adam Taylor at Overton High.

They are hardly alone. Space does not permit us to list the many outstanding district and charter teachers who slug it out in Nashville’s trenches throughout the school year, fighting the shared enemies of poverty, hunger, troubled home lives, behavioral problems, language barriers, bad outside influences and limited resources. But McDonald and Taylor are sterling examples of what can be accomplished by creative thinking, supportive administrators, and sheer determination. To look inside their classrooms is to see small miracles happen every day — and to see a brighter future for Nashville schoolchildren of all races and backgrounds than statistics sometimes let us hope.

Read the full article here.

In preventing fiscal cliff, don’t fall off “educational cliff” – Council of Great City Schools

The Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) is urging lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to strengthen – not cut – federal education programs in reaching a deal to prevent the fiscal cliff.

In a statement released today, CGCS calls on lawmakers to avoid cuts to education programs for disadvantaged students, English learners, students with disabilities, and teacher professional development.

“The economic implications of the educational cliff are as serious as those presented by
the fiscal cliff itself, and the nation’s leaders should keep these twin issues in mind with the same sense of urgency,”

Without a balanced resolution to the “fiscal cliff,” federal domestic discretionary
programs in education and other areas (which constitute only 16 percent of the budget) will be squeezed out, and important investments in the nation’s future like better schooling will be permanently undermined.

The group has outlined what it believes that “squeezing out” will look like in a report titled Impact of Sequestration on the Nation’s Urban Public Schools.

Read the full statement & report:

Council of Great City Schools Statement on Sequestration

Impact of Sequestration on the Nation’s Urban Public Schools

9 local & national leaders write letters of support for MNPS in Race to the Top District competition

UPDATE: Though Metro Schools did not win the Race to the Top District competition, the plan outlined in our application – and supported by the leaders listed below – will move forward.

City, state, and national leadership are lining up in support of Metro Schools’ plans for reform and the Race to the Top District competition money that could help make them successful much more quickly.

“What happens in Nashville matters to Tennessee and the nation,” wrote Gov. Bill Haslam. “Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools is uniquely positioned to inform the entire field.”

Gov. Haslam is one of many who wrote letters to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan voicing full support for the reform efforts happening in Metro Schools. Joining him are Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, former Senator and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Representative Jim Cooper, State Representative and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Mayor Karl Dean, Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, and former State Senator and CEO of SCORE Jamie Woodson, .

Our district has applied for $40 million in the Race to the Top District competition, which would help accelerate the implementation and success of our efforts. The application includes plans for networked leadership so groups of schools, including charter schools, can share best practices, personalized learning plans for more than 27,000 students, and increased school autonomy and accountability. We are one of just 61 districts across the nation chosen as a finalist in the competition and and the only one that will be building on the work begun as a first round recipient of Race to the Top funding. The U.S. Department of Education will choose 15-25 finalists who will each receive part of a $400 million grant.

Learn More About RTTT-D & Read Our Application

Read the Full Letters of Support: