Almost 19 percent of Metro Nashville Public Schools’ student population qualifies as English Language Learners (ELLs). This means MNPS alone serves one-third of the states’ students who are learning English. With the right support, and intensive focus on their unique needs, these newcomer students can not only integrate socially— but also succeed in school and life.
So in 2016, the Foundation helped launch the Nashville Newcomers Academy (NNA), an innovative, first-of-its-kind partnership between MNPS and public charter school STEM Prep Academy to serve our newest young Americans with the most urgent needs.
Funding specifically supported placing additional highly-trained teachers in classrooms at the school to provide direct, intensive language instruction and co-facilitate the school’s inquiry-based college preparatory curriculum within general education classes. Through focused delivery of instruction and services, NNA is advancing immigrant and refugee students’ social-emotional well-being while promoting stability and empowerment within a small, safe classroom environment. Nearly 100 percent of NNA students have experienced interrupted formal education, and in some cases, no formal education. To support social integration and preserve important cultural identities, students participate in daily advisories with diverse peers, trauma-informed group and individual sessions with the school’s counseling team, and are paired with an older peer to help them thrive socially as well as academically.
To be eligible to attend the Nashville Newcomer Academy, students must have lived in the United States for less than one year and scored the lowest possible level on the state’s English language assessment given to all students with non-English language backgrounds. The program annually serves over 100 students in grades 5-9. NNA students represent over 20 different native countries from around the globe.
To date, in reading these students have grown four grade levels in one school year, beginning with no alphabet recognition to reading at a high third grade level. NNA students’ attendance averages 95%.
The Academy also advances achievement of this population district-wide through a demonstration school model and provides professional development for educators at other schools serving high concentrations of newcomer students.Read More
Metro Nashville Public Schools administrators are recommending that the board deny the only charter school application that has come in this year.
In a report sent to board members this week, district officials criticized the proposal from the nonprofit ReThink Forward, saying it wasn’t specific enough and the financial model was incomplete.
If the school board agrees with the recommendation, this would mark the fourth year that the district has shied away from charters, which are part of MNPS but run by private operaters.
That’s after years of consistent charter growth. Between 2011 and 2014, the board approved 19 applications for new charter schools or for existing charter schools to open new locations. Since 2015, the board has approved one.
Dennis Queen, who heads the Charter School Office within MNPS, says charters shouldn’t take that as a sign that the district doesn’t want new ones anymore. It’s just being more selective, he says: In addition to digging more into the application’s data to make sure it’s sound, the district is looking for an element of innovation. [Read more at WPLN, NashvillePublicRadio.org]Read More
Tennessee’s plan to start grading its schools this year has taken a big detour.
Days of online testing problems this spring forced officials to toss out a new A-F grading system, under development for more than a year as part of Tennessee’s sweeping plan to usher in a new era of school quality.
Now the state Education Department has come up with a different approach to help parents and communities understand how their schools performed in 2017-18.
The state will rate each school on a scale of 0-4 on six different performance indicators. And in a major concession to local district leaders, schools won’t receive a single overall grade or rating as initially planned.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said the change complies with a new state law ordering that this year’s TNReady scores “shall not be used to assign a letter grade to a school” — a nod to concerns that the test results may be unreliable. She believes it also complies with the Every Student Succeeds Act, also known as ESSA, the 2015 federal law that requires every state to adopt a rating system that distinguishes each of its schools in a meaningful way.
McQueen’s approach is drawing mostly praise from education leaders and groups, even as some wonder whether a numeric system will provide the simplicity and clarity of one that grades schools on an A-F scale. [Read more at Chalkbeat.org]Read More
There are a lot of exciting things about Nashville today. The construction cranes and new hotels, office buildings and apartments dotting our skyline offer a real time, visual reminder of our progress.
But all this success is masking a massive, fundamental problem. For over two decades, the third grade reading scores of students in Metro Nashville have remained abysmally low. Three out of four Nashville students do not meet basic grade level reading standards by the end of third grade.
This reality, if left unchanged, spells a slow-moving disaster for our students, our workforce and our city.
Third Grade Reading Matters — A Lot
Third grade reading performance is one of the most important early benchmarks we have for predicting a student’s long-term academic and career success. Students must first ‘learn to read’ in order to ‘read to learn’ everything else in life— which makes third grade a watershed year for literacy.
Research shows the majority of children who are not reading proficiently by the end of third grade are likely to never catch up. They then face a cascading number of additional challenges that follow them through life –higher incidences of school discipline issues, crime and incarceration.
According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, one in six students not reading proficiently by the end of third grade will not earn a high school diploma. Every child without a high school diploma costs society an estimated $260,000 in lost earnings, taxes and productivity — a number that will increase dramatically as low-skills jobs continue to disappear and demand for skilled work increases.
Today, adults without a high school degree earn only half as much annually as their peers who graduated. As more of our jobs require a skill or credential beyond high school, those who do not have a high school education will only fall further behind.
The Need in Nashville is Now
Nashville Metro Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph prioritized the issue early in his administration and helped give way to an unprecedented coming together of community partners to develop the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success – a citywide framework for helping us make significant gains on an accelerated path. That plan recently won Nashville certification as a Campaign for Grade Level Reading Community.
The plan is a great first step, but our city is at a pivotally important juncture. The hard work really starts with implementation. As Ron Fairchild from the Campaign shared with key Nashville education groups at our first NED event, their work provides insights for Nashville on what it will take to help more students read on grade-level.
It is time to mobilize a community-wide effort, activating business, non-profit and government stakeholders around early literacy. These efforts look to make connections between support programs and engage across issues like housing, health care, and parent engagement.
This work cannot start in third grade, and it is not limited to only what happens inside the classroom. Literacy feeds off other factors like chronic absenteeism and the quality of learning before kindergarten. Closing the literacy gaps for at-risk populations means finding ways to introduce more book-rich environments and improve attendance.
Finally— and critically— our success requires a long-term commitment to stay engaged and focus on the challenge despite the temptation to become cynical or complacent.
The Call for Action
Other communities are making progress on this important issue— and we know Nashville can, too. Here are three ways to help right now:
Get involved at a local school. Whether it’s reading to kids or supporting other community efforts, people power is important. Local organizations like PENCIL4SCHOOLS connect volunteers to opportunities in schools.
Speak out. Hold our elected officials and school leaders accountable. We must remain vocal to ensure this issue stays a top priority for city leaders and all of our community. Members of the business community are also uniquely positioned to make an impact as we have an obvious interest in a healthy, educated, and competitive local workforce.
Support the Blueprint incubator. We won’t be able to reach our goal without a true public/private partnerships. The communities who have accomplished bold ambitious plans, and worked together. Find out more at https://blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com/
We believe in Nashville, and if we work together, we can get there.
About the Speakers
Ron’s role with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is to serve as the director of the GLR Support Center, which functions as a hub for peer exchange, a broker of tools and technical assistance, and an accelerator of the scope and pace of change in the more than 360 communities in 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Canada currently involved in the Campaign. Ron fulfills this role while also serving as President and CEO of the Smarter Learning Group, a national consulting rm focused on helping education-related organizations achieve better results, build stronger partnerships, and attract more investment. Prior to launching the rm in 2011, Ron served as the founding CEO of the National Summer Learning Association and the executive director of its predecessor organization, the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University from 2002 to 2010.
The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a nationwide, collaborative effort that works to ensure more low-income children can succeed in school and life by focusing on this key indicator— grade-level reading by the end of third grade. The Campaign helps cities and leaders mobilize community-wide solutions to promote quality teaching and school readiness, improve attendance and summer learning, and engage parents.
Dr. Shawn Joseph
Dr. Shawn Joseph is the current Director of Metro Nashville Public Schools. He is an experienced educator who had fought for excellence and equity for every student he has served in his more than 20-year career. Dr. Joseph has served as a teacher, principal, district administrator, deputy superintendent and superintendent. His work has garnered national recognition, and his expertise has been sought by other districts during transitional periods.Read More
Parents are key to a child’s academic success— they are their first teacher, advocate, coach and more. If a parent is unable to navigate the school system or build strong relationships with teachers, the student isn’t able to benefit from an effective partnership between home and school. Empowering all parents, regardless of background or income level, to partner in their children’s education can improve academic achievement and spark community-wide change.
That’s why, since 2010, the Foundation has provided funding to grow the “Parents as Partners” program through Conexión Américas, which aims to foster a working relationship between Latino parents and schools, to improve children’s academic achievement.
Conexión Américas staff and a team of trained parent facilitators deliver workshops in Spanish and use a unique curriculum specific to parents’ needs for pre-k, elementary, and middle/high school.
Participants partner with this team of parent facilitators who have already gone through the program to learn topics like how to understand and navigate the US school system; parent-teacher communication and advocating for their child; and building a strong learning environment in the home. Parents also have the opportunity to talk with principals and teachers in a supportive environment.
This parent-to-parent approach aligns with Conexión Américas’ core value of building the skills of participants and assisting them in being the principal agents of community change.
Annually, over 300 parents participate in the program, representing more than 500 children at 15 to 17 schools.Read More
Lipscomb University School Leadership Program: Preparing Future Principals to Lead High-Quality Schools
Just like any business or organization, high-quality schools need effective leaders. Yet each year, the State of Tennessee faces the challenge of filling roughly 270 school leader positions. That means 15 percent of school leadership positions turn over annually. To help our schools, teachers, and students succeed, our state must recruit and retain more quality leaders.
That’s why The Foundation is helping to fund scholarships for aspiring school leaders to participate in the Ayers Fellows Program at Lipscomb University. The two-year program is built around 31 research-based competencies and best practices in principal leadership preparation.
In addition to earning a Master of Education (M.Ed.) or Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree in Educational Leadership, high-caliber aspiring school leaders develop and master these competencies and benefit from mentoring relationships and district clinical experiences with current administrators. These partnerships allow fellows to connect their coursework directly into real-world work and learn from seasoned professionals about leading schools and districts.
Graduates are equipped to be transformational leaders in their districts and make an impact. As of 2017, 50 percent of graduates have already been promoted to full time principal roles— including 6 counties in middle Tennessee.Read More
Academies of Nashville: Helping High School Students Earn a Post-Secondary Credential & Be Career-Ready
The majority of jobs in today’s economy require education beyond high school before employment. Having the opportunity to gain an industry certification while enrolled in high school equips students with a market-ready skill upon graduation. Colleges and universities also value industry certifications, as this designation indicates a student has successfully taken and passed a rigorous exam in a specific field, demonstrating promise for college and career success.
The Academies of Nashville, housed in the 12 largest neighborhood high school campuses of Metro Nashville Public Schools, provide students the ability to pursue a career pathway of study in fields ranging from healthcare and engineering to hospitality and automotive technology— all before graduation. Every pathway offers early college credit and many provide an opportunity to gain an industry credential. However, the exams can cost up to several hundred dollars— a prohibitive financial barrier for many students.
In partnership with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, the Foundation provided funding to support the expansion of MNPS’s student industry certifications program and help remove that financial barrier for students pursuing a credential.
Specifically, the three-year investment helped to defray the cost of industry certification examination fees and supported professional development for career and technical education teachers to earn the related industry certifications.
As a result, the number of students registered and sitting for the exams nearly doubled in the 2017-2018 school year. The number of students who passed industry certifications also increased, raising the pass rate two percentage points to 61 percent.Read More
Honesty is the best policy, especially when we are talking about student achievement.
In separate reports, Harvard University researchers and the nonprofit organization Achieve, have identified Tennessee as a national leader in erasing the gap between measures of student proficiency on statewide assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
Eleven years ago, such progress in closing what Achieve calls “the honesty gap” seemed unimaginable for Tennessee. In 2007, the state’s leaders and educators were embarrassed to be handed an F for “truth in advertising about student proficiency” in a US Chamber of Commerce report. At that time, there was a 60-point difference between the proficiency rates for reading and math that Tennessee reported and the NAEP results.
Tennessee responded decisively to the US Chamber report by continuously adopting higher academic standards and creating a more challenging statewide assessment. According to Achieve’s Proficient vs. Prepared report released in May, the Tennessee honesty gap for fourth grade has narrowed to 5 points in math and 4 points in reading. The gap closure is even greater in eighth grade, to a mere 2 points in math and 0 in reading. [Read more at TNScore.org]Read More
I know this is going to be a team effort, but I want to work to make sure the community knows they have someone leading the work that they can trust.
Here’s what Sharon Griffin wants to do in her first month as Tennessee’s new turnaround leader
Tennessee’s state-run district faces many challenges as it enters a new era under its third leader in six years, but prominent among them is addressing community pushback and distrust.
Sharon Griffin kicked off her tenure as the Achievement School District’s chief on Friday. One of her first orders of business will be reconnecting the district with the community it serves most — Memphis.
Griffin, a longtime Memphian, said she wants to quickly launch an advisory team of local parents, students, and faith leaders after hearing from the community that they want face time with the district’s leadership.
“I want to provide a face-to-face avenue, something I’ve heard loud and clear that the community wants,” Griffin told Chalkbeat. “I want to give a place and space to voice concerns and support… I know this is going to be a team effort, but I want to work to make sure the community knows they have someone leading the work that they can trust.”
Commissioner Candice McQueen told Chalkbeat this week that the state is banking on Griffin as the kind of leader who can re-establish the district’s credibility with the communities it serves — in particular because of her experience in turnaround work in Shelby County, her natural charisma, and her communication skills. McQueen hopes Griffin can help the district deliver the academic improvements it promised when it was created. [Read More at Chalkbeat Tennessee]Read More