Exploring whether Nashville public schools should start high school later in the morning could again become a topic for the district’s board.
Recently elected Metro Nashville Public Schools Board member Gini Pupo-Walker broached the topic during a recent school board retreat, reviving an issue looked at numerous times over the years.
The idea became more prominent last week on Twitter during a debate among school board members and parents about the merits of changing start times.
Changing the schedule of schools could prove a difficult task and would require plenty of consideration over different logistical concerns.
Pupo-Walker said she isn’t committed to any change, only to the process of looking into the matter.
“I promised I would start the process to explore the topic and what it would take in terms of transportation and cost,” Pupo-Walker said. “I don’t know the answer to that yet.”
Does it have support?
Pupo-Walker hasn’t had a formal conversation about changing start times with Director of Schools Shawn Joseph but plans to sit down with the superintendent.
It is likely Nashville public schools staff would be open to hearing suggestions about changing high school start times, said Robert Johnson, a district spokesman.
And a renewed conversation has support from other school board members.
Board members Jill Speering and Amy Frogge have been proponents of such a change.
Frogge said she is glad the board is looking to consider “making this positive change for our students.”
What are the hurdles?
The district staggers school start times so high schools start first, then elementary schools, followed by middle schools. The schedule ensures there are fewer bus routes at one time, requiring less buses overall.
To make a change to school start times, Johnson said, there are numerous considerations, including costs. Other considerations include:
- Bus schedules
- Teachers’ schedules and their families’ need for daycare
- The age at which young children would be waiting for an early morning bus
- Families who need teenagers to be at home to help with afternoon child care
- Teenagers’ after-school job responsibilities
- High school athletic practices and events
How could it benefit students?
Studies have shown that a later start time for middle and high school greatly benefits the students.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, a national association of pediatricians, recommended in 2014 based off the studies that districts try to delay the start of middle and high school class to 8:30 a.m. or later.
“Doing so will align school schedules to the biological sleep rhythms of adolescents, whose sleep-wake cycles begin to shift up to two hours later at the start of puberty,” a statement from the association said.
The research, according to the association, showed that “delaying school start times helps students perform better in school, makes them less likely to be overweight or suffer from depression, and reduces the chance of automobile accidents.”
Pupo-Walker said the cost could be the most prohibitive piece of shifting school start times.
“A barrier previously was the fiscal note attached, and that is a legitimate issue,” Pupo-Walker said. “We don’t have money, as is, and I am not going to propose we buy 50 buses to undertake this change.”
Pupo-Walker hopes the board can hear concerns from families about the way the schedule is formatted now, along with any future proposals.
She also wants to hear from teachers and administrators.
“I’d love to have focus groups … to figure out if we have the appetite for such a change,” she said.[Read more at the Tennessean]
Public education in Tennessee has come a long way in eight years. The state has buckled down — under the leadership of two education commissioners — to address big problems like a literacy gap, teacher retention and college prep.
The hard work paid off, according to a national assessment. In eight years, the state moved its grade from an “F” to an “A” on the nation’s report card.
The strides in education, as well as where the state needs to improve, were the focus of an event Tuesday as state education leaders gathered for a luncheon in Nashville.
The Tennessee Department of Education hosted the forum, dubbed “Learnings from the Past Eight Years: Reflections on Educational Progress in Tennessee,” at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
District superintendents, principals and stand-out teachers joined officials from the education department as educators shared in detail how the state now sits at the top of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The report measures strides Tennessee is making to improve education, but the state’s scores are still below the national average in many areas.
In a prerecorded video message, Gov. Bill Haslam told the audience that receiving an “A” on the nation’s report card in 2012 was possibly the best moment of his tenure.
The needle has moved under the leadership of Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and her predecessor Kevin Huffman, and the two spent time answering questions about education improvements prompted by moderator David Plazas of The Tennessean.
“This is a natural time for reflection and starting to think about goals anew as we think about a new administration, new governor, new commissioner,” said McQueen, who will leave her post Jan. 1.
Key milestones and areas for improvement include:
- Literacy – In an effort to up literacy marks – less than half of third and fourth graders are reading on grade level based on state tests – the state launched the Read to Be Ready campaign two years ago. With a goal of getting 75 percent of all third-grade students reading proficiently by 2025, the state now has more than 250 district campaign coaches. “We need additional funding for reading coaches and literacy training so teachers have access to that kind of support,” said Cathy Whitehead, 2016 Tennessee Teacher of the Year.
- College prep – The average ACT composite score in Tennessee will be 21 by 2020, increasing every year from an average of 19 in 2013. The state saw improvement in that score after allowing students to retake the ACT a second time free of cost. The state has also made strides in getting more students in college classrooms through its Tennessee Promise scholarship program, launched under Haslam. However, Tennessee Higher Education Commission Executive Director Mike Krause emphasized college prep and the need to improve access in rural areas. He pointed to Lake County, where he said only 12 percent of residents have earned a college degree. “We need to do better in our distressed counties,” he said.
- Attracting and retaining teachers and principals – “I’m foreseeing challenges in retention on compensation,” McQueen said, and added that teachers are often lured to other state districts because of pay. “It’s becoming more of a challenge, particularly in our rural counties that are sitting next to an urban district. We need to keep focus on teacher compensation and support, especially in rural areas.”
- Focus on CTE courses ahead of Amazon infusion – McQueen said she hopes public school graduates will be ready to earn a job at Amazon – set to employ 5,000 people earning $150,000 on average in Nashville – through a more robust engagement in CTE courses. She’d like the state to better prepare kids for IT jobs by increasing coding and technology courses in elementary schools. Data has shown that early exposure to technology courses is likely to encourage a student to participate in IT courses in high school.
Cicely Woodard, 2017-18 Tennessee Teacher of the Year, noted that 13 percent of Tennessee teachers are teachers of colors, while 37 percent of the state’s students identify as a race other than white. She said that she hoped the state would work toward ensuring teachers reflect who they’re teaching.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
Beyond the usual confusions and questions of freshmen year, low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college may arrive on campus with personal fears that they just don’t belong and will never fit in.
However, slightly older students from the same background can ease that uncertainty with advice and friendship, helping those freshmen stay on track in school and eventually graduate, experts say. That is the philosophy of an unusual and growing mentorship program called Level-Up which involves 260 students from the Los Angeles area at 29 college campuses mainly in California.
Early indications are that participants, mostly from low-income Latino families, have been continuing on into their second year of college at higher rates than the general student population, although other factors surely play a role as well, officials said. The mentoring lasts a year to try to get them successfully through freshman year when they are at highest risk of dropping out.
“It’s cool having someone who’s gone through experiences that I’m probably going to go through and help guide me,” said Allan Garcia, a freshman at Pasadena City College who joined the program this fall. Compared to a much older professional college counselor, a mentor close to his age and background makes discussions “more personal,” he said.
As he was about to start college, Garcia realized he needed some help adjusting to life after high school. He wanted to connect with someone a little older who knew the campus ropes and understood the pitfalls and rewards of college freshman year. And even better would be someone like him who came from an immigrant family and was in the first generation to attend college.
He found all that in Ariana Lopez Torres, a second year student at Pasadena City who was matched to become Garcia’s peer mentor in the Level Up program run by the Southern California College Access Network (SoCal CAN).
SoCal CAN reports that about 91 percent of participating freshmen continue into their second year of college. That compares to 84 percent for all students across the 23-campus California State University system and 76 percent across the 114 California community colleges. To be sure, other factors may contribute to Level Up’s strong numbers, such as the students themselves being motivated enough to participate.
Nationwide, young people whose parents did not attend or finish college often lack the “cultural capital that helps students navigate college,” according to a recent U.S. Department of Education report. The study showed that 33 percent of “First Generation” college students nationwide dropped out after three years, compared to just 14 percent of those whose parents had degrees.
Peer mentoring programs are becoming more popular in various forms across the country. Most are tied to summer orientation or are within certain academic departments, such as computer science. Most too were created by the individual colleges to serve just their own students. In contrast, Level Up appears to be unusual since it reaches across different types of colleges and enrolls students of varying interests and abilities, several experts said.
Level Up organizers say it was established to extend assistance beyond traditional college admissions advice. Southern California College Access Network’s membership of 70 college prep and readiness organizations “felt very confident about their ability to get students into college. They felt less confident about their ability to really support students once they arrived on college campuses,” explained Alison De Lucca, the network’s executive director.
First Generation students make up a sizeable share of the student body at California’s public universities; they comprise about 43 percent of new students at the 10-campus University of California system and 32 percent at CSU.
Level Up began pairings two years ago. It is modeled in part on the national Posse Foundation, based in New York City, which sends students with leadership potential to highly selective colleges in groups and provides plenty of support. “If low income, First Generation students are connecting with each other to feel a greater sense of belonging on campus, they are more likely to persist,” De Lucca said.
The Level Up mentors — known as “ambassadors”— are trained in summer meetings on such issues as finding campus resources like tutoring and counseling, getting along with roommates, easing homesickness, appealing financial aid awards and watching for signs of emotional and academic distress, according to Rudy Torres, Level Up program manager.
In addition to in-person meetings once or twice a month, the mentors are supposed to stay connected to their matched student with personal texts or phone calls and also pass along information from the network about study habits and where to find scholarships and food pantries, he said. The volunteer ambassadors are given $100 a year stipend and can receive extra money to take the students they are mentoring to lunch. Some mentees become advisors the following year.
This fall, most Level Up pairings are at UC campuses including UCLA, Berkeley and Merced; and at CSU campuses including Northridge, Long Beach and San Jose. Students are participating at six community colleges including Santa Monica, Glendale and East Los Angeles and at a handful of private schools such as University of Southern California and Azusa Pacific University. At a few schools in other states, such as Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania and Columbia University in New York, California students help mentor younger ones from home.
However, not every match of personalities works out well or persist. Some freshmen, program manager Torres said, “don’t reach out for help if they are feeling overwhelmed with school and social life.”
Still he and other officials insist they see mentors helping freshmen navigate problems that might otherwise sink them. Ambassadors serve as early warning monitors who tip off professional staff about financial aid crises or struggles with working too many hours at off-campus jobs, they said.
Getting advice from another student may be “more attractive and less threatening” than dealing with a much older counselor, said Lindsay Page, an assistant professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh. Yet a possible drawback is that students may be reluctant to reveal personal problems to a peer in “the same social network,” added Page who is a faculty research fellow at the National Bureau of Economic Research. She has received national attention for researching ways, including text message reminders, to make sure students actually show up for their first college classes.
Jo Arney, program director of Re-Imagining the First Year, a national project seeking to improve freshmen retention rates at state colleges, said Level Up sounded promising. Freshmen “have to be taught to be a college student. And the people who are in the best position to do that are the ones who just did that themselves,” she explained. At the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, where she is director of student success, a similar mentoring program is being started for African American males, she said.
At the University of Southern California, freshman Catherine Bernardo, 18, is matched with junior Ana Antuna, 20, both from immigrant families who live in central Los Angeles. Antuna recently transferred to USC and the two are learning about the campus together even as the older student provides emotional support along with tips about better study habits.
“Sometimes I feel I’m not meant to be here and that this is too much for me,” Bernardo said of the university. Her mentor then “sends positive messages to keep on going,” she said. They laugh about what they see as indulgences of some other students, such as a woman wearing an expensive Chanel t-shirt for a gym workout.
Antuna said she sometimes shares Bernardo’s discomfort of studying at a campus where fellow Latinos comprise only about 15 percent of the student body but reassures her “that even though we don’t feel comfortable sometimes, we earned our spot here. We belong here.”
At Pasadena City College, mentor Ariana Lopez Torres said she wanted to help a younger student avoid the shock she felt starting college last year. “In high school everything is given to you, even your books. But here, you have to be responsible for everything. And they don’t prepare you for that,” she said.
She and Garcia show an easy camaraderie as a result of their twice a month get-togethers over snacks and additional texting. Most important, Garcia said, is her general support “to stay motivated.”[Read more at EdSource] Read More
Nashville public schools board lists four properties as surplus to help fill $13 million budget hole
This is a corrected version. The Brookmeade property is located at 1015 Davidson Drive.
The Nashville public schools board wants to sell four properties to make up a portion of its $13 million budget hole, a unanimous decision that came after a heated discussion over a fifth property some members wanted to sell.
Metro Nashville Public Schools, under the city’s 2018-19 budget, was expected to sell some of its property to find money to operate or risk slashing operating expenses.
The Nashville Metro Council will need to approve the sale of the properties. The properties are:
- 11.73 acres of vacant land at 0 Brick Church Pike, appraised at $720,000.
- A vacant 0.75 acres parcel at 2795 Pennington Bend Road, appraised at $56,000.
- The former Brookmeade Elementary School property at 1015 Davidson Drive, appraised at $3.29 million.
- And the former Hickman Elementary School site at 3125 Ironwood Drive, appraised at $1.32 million.
Although the decision was unanimous, it came after a failed vote and amendments to which board member Amy Frogge argued against.
The heated decision focused on whether to exclude a 198-acre portion of the 273-acre Hope Park site purchased recently for a new Hillwood High School. The property, located at 8001 Highway 70 S., was purchased for $10.2 million.
Before the eventual vote on the four properties, the board voted down selling all five. That was preceded by failed amendments on that vote.
Frogge repeatedly said council members had concerns about listing the Hope Park property as surplus. She also raised questions about whether funds from a sale could be included to pay for the district’s operations due to money owed from purchasing the property.
“I don’t know what the political ramifications are,” she said. “Please support the people in my district and allow them to weigh in.”
Board member Will Pinkston, who supported selling the property, said it was land that the district Metro Parks was supposed to help purchase for a park.
His proposal to allow a Metro Nashville agency right of first refusal on the property failed.
“This is to get it off our books,” he said to board members.
The board decided not to surplus two other properties during previous committee meetings. They are:
- The former Murrell School property at 1400 14th Ave. S.
- The former Walter Stokes Middle School property at 3701 Belmont Boulevard.
The need to sell the properties has frustrated school board members who said the city, which funds the district, put the school system in a poor position.
Board members have repeatedly said selling the district’s real property to fund its operations is a bad practice.
But it won’t be an option the Mayor and council can recommend to the board in the future. The Metro Council voted last week to prohibit the sale of real property to pay for annual operating expenses.
Instead, under the ordinance, any proceeds from sales of city-owned property would have to go toward paying off the city’s debt.
Protests against Shawn Joseph
As well, earlier in the night, a group of about 10 showed with signs calling for Director of Schools Shawn Joseph to be fired or resign.
Several addressed the board during the public comment period who addressed the board about their concerns.
Kelly Watlington said she has serious concerns about the finances of the district under Joseph. She asked for the board to fire the director.
Susan Sasser, who signed up to talk about the state of the district, said teachers are leaving the district due to Joseph and his administration. She said many feel disrespected by him and asked that he resign.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
My guiding philosophy is that all means all. All students, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status, deserve a chance to receive a quality education from our state’s public schools. We must create a pathway for success for each and every child. Simply doing nothing while students languish in schools that have underperformed for generations is counter to our principles as Tennesseans. With that in mind, let’s take a step back for a moment to talk about school improvement in our lowest performing schools and what we have planned in Tennessee.
A couple of years ago, we worked with 6,000 stakeholders, educators and community leaders across Tennessee to formulate Tennessee’s strategy for creating pathways to success for every student in our great state. Building off our Tennessee Succeedsstrategic plan and working within the guidelines of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to identify and take action to improve schools designated as being in the bottom 5 percent, we created a new school improvement framework for Tennessee based on stakeholder input, robust research, and strategic analysis and lessons learned from experience over several years. This new school improvement framework includes the following key principles for improving underperforming schools:
- Local school districts will always have the first opportunity to improve a school when it is designated as being in the bottom 5 percent. The Tennessee Department of Education does not want to take over schools unless absolutely necessary. We want local districts to take the steps necessary to improve low performing schools within the district. To that end, the state has been making additional financial and other resources available to support the district’s local efforts at school improvement. We have also been able to partner with the General Assembly to add $20 million of state funding to school improvement efforts in our Priority schools.
- We must invest in what works.Evidence-based strategies that support strong leadership, effective instruction, and a supportive learning environment that meets the needs of the whole child will be the focus of school improvement planning. Supporting this effort, the state has partnered with the Tennessee Education Research Alliance at Vanderbilt University to gain helpful insights and strengthen our work.
- Students cannot wait. We must have a sense of urgency about school improvement. There are schools in our state that have been underperforming for generations. Often, these schools are just a few miles from places where students are graduating with every opportunity at their fingertips. We cannot tolerate this disparity – something must change.
Since 2011, we have identified schools in the bottom 5 percent of the state about every three years as part of what we call the Priority list. When a school first appears on the Priority List, the local school district, with support from the state, is expected to take meaningful action to improve that school, including establishing an evidence-based plan for improvement and applying for and utilizing additional federal and state resources dedicated to Priority schools. The goal is for the local school district to implement and execute improvement measures that move the school out of the bottom 5 percent and off the Priority List.
If the school remains on the Priority List over multiple years, the state, by necessity, becomes more engaged. What that looks like depends on the local context for the school. For example, the state may decide to continue with the current intervention underway if signs of improvement are evident, or the district may opt to close the school or to convert it to a public charter school. The state and district may also work together on a partnership model, such as the one we have in Hamilton County, where the state and district share joint responsibility for a handful of Priority schools within the same feeder pattern that have been identified for improvement for the last 17 years.
Eventually, if the school remains on the Priority List for multiple years despite these improvement efforts, it can become eligible to move into the Achievement School District, which is the state-run district that works with schools that have been in the bottom 5 percent for years, if not decades.
There is a tired narrative that the Achievement School District has not been successful. In fact, since the creation of the ASD, the overall performance of schools on the Priority List has improved, in some cases dramatically, and we have raised the floor for the bottom 5 percent – it is now a higher bar. There are a number of schools that have gone from the Priority list to now meeting the criteria for a Reward school (our highest distinction), including three schools in the ASD. Generally, as schools have stayed in the ASD, students have grown at least as fast if not faster than their peers in other schools. Suspension rates for schools in the ASD have decreased over time, a sign of improved school culture. While I agree the Achievement School District has not yet met the ambitious goals it set forth six years ago, the ASD has single-handedly changed the conversation on school improvement in Tennessee and created urgency in districts that for too long had not prioritized the students in their worst performing schools. It has helped to renew the belief in what is possible to the benefit of students.
In addition to the successes and encouraging trends highlighted above, as with any ambitious endeavor, we have learned a number of lessons that we could not have known six years ago when the ASD took on the schools where inequities have existed for decades. Among those, we have seen the importance of local community engagement and support, learned which practices and methodologies consistently work and which do not, and fully realized how hard school improvement work is – while we also reaffirmed that it is absolutely worth the effort. Our experience and lessons learned not only help us to support ASD schools better over time but also inform how we support Priority schools across the state. As we continue our work to support ASD schools and increase opportunity for students in these schools, we have increased state resources dedicated to school improvement and created a new Office of School Improvement specifically dedicated to Priority school support.
As we move forward, we will continue to talk with districts about their Priority schools, and as we reach potential decisions about which schools may move into interventions like the Achievement School District or a Partnership Network, we will talk with families, community members, elected officials, and others. We have never specified how many Priority schools, nor which schools, nor the timeline on which any Priority schools may move into the ASD or a partnership. Anything you may have seen or read in the media is just speculation. Instead, we have explicitly said that the decisions on specifically which schools, when they may move into the district,and what that planning and transition timeline would look like will be based on the results and data we are seeing this school year (2018-19) and after we have additional discussions with districts, community members, operators, and other key stakeholders and state leaders, including future state leadership.
I hope you share my sense of urgency to improve outcomes in our schools that most need to show growth along with the desire that we do so in a way that is collaborative and constructive. These are hard conversations, and no one is to blame. Each parent, educator, and student is trying his or her best to improve, and they are doing everything they can think of to change the trajectory. There is not a question in my mind about their passion and desire. But often, it is like they are trying to run a 100 meter dash with hurdles in the way – there are systemic challenges and inequities that make their race harder than someone who has a clear lane. What we want to do is help to remove some of those hurdles so when students gain momentum, they won’t slow down. We want them to have the best coaches, the best equipment, the best opportunities available – they deserve nothing less.[Read more at TN Classroom Chronicles] Read More
The roadmap to improve struggling schools includes effectively retaining teachers, and leaders that are qualified for the work in the building, according to a recently published study by Tennessee’s research partner.
The blueprint, published last week by the Tennessee Education Research Alliance, lays out five factors that can drive improvement at the lowest-performing schools in the state.
The framework is being adopted in part or entirely by each of the state’s districts with chronically low-performing schools and comes as $8.25 million in statewide grants are available to 10 schools statewide.
Metro Nashville Public Schools has taken parts of the framework into consideration through its strategy to turn around low-performing schools.
And the Tennessee Achievement School District is revamping its strategies while Hamilton County Schools has partnered with the state to build around the framework to drive school improvement.
The research and funds show a more cooperative environment for school improvement statewide.
The research relies heavily on the successes like those in Shelby County Schools, where the district has seen some of the most pronounced gains in school improvement efforts.
The research also lists other strategies to succeed in school improvement. The full list is:
- Establish a dedicated organizational infrastructure.
- Identify and address barriers to improvement.
- Increase instructional capacity.
- Increase leadership capacity.
- Implement processes and practices to maintain stability.
Often, the schools with the highest need have some of the highest teacher turnover. When educators leave, they take with them their training and institutional knowledge, said Gary Henry, a Vanderbilt University professor who studies school improvement efforts and coauthored last week’s report.
“The schools need to address the underlying barriers for retention,” Henry said.
Nashville’s revamped efforts
MNPS has overhauled its efforts to address struggling schools, which occurred amidst the district seeing 21 schools land on the state’s “priority list,” or the bottom 5 percent of all schools in terms of academic achievement.
The district’s strategy touches on parts of the research framework, said Lisa Coons, schools of innovation director. She said the district also used other research to develop its plan to address low-performing schools.
“We always look at all the research out there and contextualize it to Nashville,” Coons said.
If the district doesn’t show improvement at those schools, it is at risk of state takeover by the Achievement School District. Nashville currently has two ASD schools run by a charter operator.
The district’s strategy zeros in on four areas to improve schools: school leadership, effective instruction, growing talent, and student and family support systems. Coons met with Vanderbilt researchers over the summer to have preliminary discussions about the research, she said.
How Nashville will use the state grants
Coons said the district will use the up to $275,000 a year statewide grants it received at three schools to boost those efforts.
Antioch and McKissick middle schools are focusing their money on math instruction. McMurry Middle School is planning its efforts around English language instruction.
Those schools have more financial flexibility, Coons said, but other schools will need to be prudent in their expenses.
MNPS board member Gini Pupo-Walker said she’d like to see the district leverage its funds further through more community involvement. She also wants to see more details on how the district will work with the state in its improvement of low-performing schools.
“I don’t have a good sense for how deep our partnership is with the state,” Pupo-Walker said. “I think having a strong partnership with the state is essential.”
Hamilton Co. and ASD schools efforts
In Chattanooga, for instance, Hamilton County Schools and the state have created the State Partnership network that aims to boost academics at its lowest-performing schools in conjunction with state leaders.
Henry said Chattanooga’s plans are aligned to Vanderbilt’s research, but the district also invested heavily in building an infrastructure to improve their schools.
The Achievement School District is also shifting its work to align closer to the research, Griffin said. The district has needed to rethink its strategies after similar research found the ASD’s takeover efforts weren’t producing substantial results.
State Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said she’s had conversations with Nashville schools about improvement and pitched a similar partnership as in Hamilton County.
“As an alternative to the Achievement School District, I also discussed a neighborhood or community approach that focused state and local support on a subset of schools in similar to fashion to the Partnership Network in Hamilton County,” McQueen said.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
Tennessee has awarded $8.9 million for next year’s summer reading program.
The state Education Department said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced the 218 public school recipients on Thursday. The funds go toward tuition-free, monthlong literacy camps for 8,910 students in need statewide.
Next summer will be the fourth year of the grant program, known as Read to be Ready Summer Grants.
The department said this year, about 7,700 first-, second- and third-graders participated, seeing increases in reading comprehension, accuracy and motivation.Read More
For the first time in four years, Tennessee will have a new education commissioner in January, a position held by Candice McQueen since Jan. 1, 2015.
As McQueen exits from the top education post in the state to lead a national nonprofit, she offered advice for the person Gov.-elect Bill Lee selects as her successor.
McQueen will become the CEO of the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching, a group focused on aiding in training, attracting and supporting teachers, on Jan. 15.
She’ll spend a brief time traveling with family before taking over the nonprofit that has sought to help craft strategies on how districts can support and retain teachers.
“The most important school factor for student growth is the teacher,” McQueen said in an interview with the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee. “This is an organization that from its inception has been about how to do we support teachers and have systems of support instead of one-off strategies.”
What are the biggest hurdles for your successor?
McQueen, who will leave as a new governor and host of new lawmakers take office, said her replacement will need to take the state’s education plans to new heights but also maintain high standards, expectations and accountability. She said increasing funding and resources for districts and teachers will be crucial.
She said building relationships will be a large part of the job and important to her successor’s overall success.
“When you are moving into any new administration where you have a new governor and you have a large number of new legislators when you are coming in as commissioner of the more high profile work, whether that is health care or education, you are going to have to get to know the legislators and administrators.
“You are going to have to build those relationships and that takes time.
“My advice is to get to know those that are surrounding the governor and the governor himself, as well as the legislators,” McQueen said. “Make sure there is an understanding of what is motivating them, what concerns they have and create capacity on your own end through your team so you are highly visible to them and certainly attainable.”
What does the new commissioner need to tackle in 2019?
The state’s literacy work will require an increased focus in 2019 and beyond, McQueen said.
“The literacy work is starting to have an impact,” she said. “We need to go deeper.”
Statewide, only 33 percent of students are proficient in the state’s reading and language arts tests. Under McQueen, the state launched the Read to be Readycampaign, which has focused heavily on early grade reading instruction.
McQueen said the state needs to further ensure teachers have a strong reading curriculum, books and the support to help connect kids to the teachings.
“We need to ensure teachers are supported in their own knowledge about how to teach reading and they have support on the remediation side,” she said.
Any other advice for your successor?
The advice McQueen said she wants to drive home to whoever takes over the job next is the same advice she received when she took over the job. McQueen replaced Kevin Huffman in 2015.
“I got a piece of advice when I started as commissioner and it stuck with me,” she said.
McQueen said the job is difficult, but making significant changes is one of the hardest challenges.
“It is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done,” she said.
As commissioner, McQueen has supervised plenty of changes, including in state accountability in order to conform to a new federal education law and new education standards. She said the next commissioner will need to “listen a lot to make changes and continuously improve.”
“Try to be impactful with the time you have and, sometimes, that takes courage and takes thinking outside the box,” McQueen said. “But you have to bring people with you and listen to people.”
Is there something specific you don’t want your successor to back away from?
McQueen said she is asking that her successor stay the course on the state’s education standards and in its assessment and accountability model.
“We have some of the best standards in the country,” she said. “They have gone through multiple revisions, and we have moved from an ‘F’ 10 years ago and I am proud as commissioner (to have) moved those to an ‘A.’ “
She added that the state must “stay true” to an assessment that shows what students are learning in the classroom.
But that may not be easy. The administration of the TNReady statewide standardized test ran into numerous issues during McQueen’s tenure, with some voices calling for the state to reverse course on the test.
It was one of the most high-profile issues McQueen dealt with as commissioner.
She said not being able to provide a smooth TNReady test was one of her greatest regrets.
“We are so close to success on assessment,” she said. “I hope we can stay focused on what we can do to improve. I am confident we will have success.”
And she asked that the new commissioner stick to the state’s accountability model that looks at student, teacher and district results. The state uses that data to evaluate teacher and student performance on a yearly basis.
“One of the crucial pieces of success as a state is how we created accountability at all levels,” she said.[Read more at the Tennessean] Read More
Median income gains in Nashville lag peer cities, prenatal care is declining in nearly all Middle Tennessee counties, health insurance coverage has dropped and the percentage of residents living below the poverty line is on the rise.
New data released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in its annual Vital Signs report comes in stark contrast to the steady stream of economic wins the city has experienced in the past year: record low unemployment rates, expanded GDP and the recruitment of big name companies and organizations including Amazon, Alliance Bernstein, Ernst & Young and Major League Soccer.
While business headlines point to prosperity, many residents are not feeling the gains, based on data gathered over the past decade. Both the Nashville and Clarksville areas face increasing challenges in housing, health, education and infrastructure, in spite of — or because of — their rapid growth.
“A lot of the challenge has to do with not keeping up with critical infrastructure,” Ralph Schulz, CEO of the chamber, said. “In a lot of ways, we are now bumping up on what those challenges can mean to our future prosperity.”
Across all levels of education in the Nashville area, the percentage of those below the poverty line has increased between 2007 and 2016, even as unemployment rates have dropped across the board. More than 22 percent of Davidson County children live in poverty and more than half of the region’s counties saw an increase in the percentage of students participating in a free or reduced lunch plan in the past decade.
More recent data shows an improved trajectory. From 2014 to 2017, Nashville poverty rates have declined each year, dropping from about 15 percent to 11 percent, according to chamber officials.
Education is strongly linked to poverty rates and income levels, with 24 percent of those in the Nashville area who lack a high school diploma living in poverty, compared to 11 percent for those who graduated.
Compared to the nation, Nashville has a greater percentage of individuals without a high school diploma — 9.6 percent to 4.5 percent — but it also has a greater percentage of those with a bachelors, graduate or professional degree.
In-migration, which contributed to 70 percent of the region’s growth in 2017, is contributing to gains in educational obtainment. Among those moving to the Nashville area from other states, nearly half have a bachelor’s degree or higher. Of those moving from another country, about 58 percent have those credentials. That compares to between 33 percent to 36 percent among those already in the Nashville area.
Tennessee has sought to boost education levels in recent years with initiatives such as Tennessee Promise, Drive to 55, Labor Education Alignment Program and Tennessee Reconnect Act.
Cost of living
In 2009, Nashville ranked below peer cities in cost of living, but by 2017 the area jumped above Columbus, Indianapolis, Charlotte and Raleigh. Meanwhile, median income gains are lagging. Median household income increased 5.3 percent, or by $3,042, between 2006 and 2016, but Nashville lagged many of its peer cities in income gains. Clarksville’s median income declined in that period.
“The change in wage growth, salary growth coming out of the Great Recession was a relatively modest change compared to previous business cycles,” Garrett Harper, vice president of research for the chamber, said.
While Nashville is known for its health care expertise, the city exceeds the national average in the percentage of those lacking health insurance. In Nashville, 9.5 percent of residents lack health insurance, compared to 8.7 percent nationally.
In 2016, 46 percent of employers offered health insurance, down from 69 percent in 2006. Other than Charlotte, Nashville had the most dramatic decline among peer cities in the percentage of employers dropping coverage.
From 2012 to 2016, the percentage of expectant mothers with adequate prenatal care, defined by the number of doctor visits during pregnancy, dropped in every Middle Tennessee county except Dickson and Montgomery. In Sumner and Cannon counties, the percentage fell by close to 11 percent.
“Good health starts with prenatal care and only about half of the infants born in the Nashville region have received adequate prenatal care,” the report said.
After birth, many Nashville-area children lack health care. Nashville has had significantly higher numbers of children without health insurance compared to peer cities in recent years. About 13,000 Nashville children lacked health insurance in 2016, compared to fewer than 5,000 in Raleigh, Austin, Cleveland and Seattle.
State lawmakers have rejected efforts to expand Medicaid in recent years, even as Gov. Bill Haslam proposed expansion plans. During his campaign, Gov.-elect Bill Lee said he would oppose Medicaid expansion and described the existing program as “fundamentally flawed.”
In Davidson County, more than 35 percent of students in public schools are obese. In Hickman, Smith, Maury, Robertson, Rutherford and Cannon, the percentage exceeds 40. The long-term costs of obesity include hospitalization, pharmaceutical expenses and work productivity losses, according to the report.
“It’s impacting our employers’ ability to get employees who can be there and be fully present,” Jennifer Carlat, the chamber’s chief policy officer said. “The labor market is tight enough that we are looking at all of these issues because they are important to all of our members.”
Housing, transportation costs
Nashville-area residents are increasingly cost-burdened, spending more than half their income on housing and transportation.
In Nashville, the median cost of housing increased by 54 percent from 2008 to 2018, climbing to $246,500 from $159,800. While Nashville offers competitive wages compared to the national average, residents are increasingly spending a majority of their earnings on housing and transportation, according to the report.
At issue is the available inventory, which has not caught up with demand, chamber officials said.
“The overall cost of living in the region remains lower than the national average,” Schulz said. “The increased cost of living, especially as it relates to housing, due to increased demand outpacing supply, is one of the most common challenges attributed to our growth.”
The cost of infrastructure needs in Davidson County alone totaled $5.7 billion for nearly 690 projects, including those related to education, transportation and health. Tennessee received “C” or lower grades on its inland waterways, school facilities, transit, drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.
In recent years, the chamber has featured costs of commuting and congestion in its Vital Signs report. The chamber-backed Let’s Move Nashville initiative to fund $5 billion in public transportation upgrades under a plan called nMotion failed to gather Davidson County voter support in May 2018. Chamber officials said the next proposal could be created between 2022 and 2024.
“The referendum, when it failed, it said Davidson County wasn’t ready to put dedicated funding to this,” Carlat said. “The nMotion plan is still the plan, but now they know they have a constrained budget they have to implement that plan through. The next few years are going to be about, what are all the ways we can squeeze more efficiency from the system we have?”
As infrastructure projects pile up, the region’s population is growing. From 2007 to 2017, the Nashville area’s population grew by 25 percent, or 400,000 people, to 1.9 million people. In 2017, the area grew by 94 people a day, the chamber reported, citing U.S. Census data.
Nashville’s growth rate was ranked behind Charlotte, Austin and Raleigh.
“Our population growth exceeded what we were anticipating in the mid-2000s,” Harper said. “(We’ve) seen a resurgence of migration in the period since the Great Recession nationally and particularly here it has contributed to the population growth.”
[Read more at the Tennessean]
The longtime leader of one of Tennessee’s most influential education advocacy organizations is stepping down and will be succeeded by her chief lieutenant.
Jamie Woodson will leave her job as CEO of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, also known as SCORE, to become the group’s senior adviser.
David Mansouri, SCORE’s president for the past three years, will take over as both president and CEO with the new year.
The transition was announced Thursday in an email to SCORE’s supporters from former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, chairman of the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy and research institution that he founded in 2009.
Frist said Woodson requested the change after eight years at the helm. He credited the former state lawmaker, who championed public education during her 12 years in Tennessee’s General Assembly, for helping SCORE to become “one of the nation’s best-in-class, policy-focused nonprofits” advocating for students, families, and communities.
Earlier this week, the group’s board of directors voted unanimously to name Mansouri as SCORE’s new leader.
Mansouri joined the organization in 2010 and has had roles in communications, outreach, management, policy, and research, stepping increasingly into the limelight on SCORE’s advocacy work in recent years.
“He is uniquely positioned to lead SCORE as we support the transition of so many state and local leaders,” Frist wrote supporters, “and he will also launch and lead SCORE’s new strategic planning process to quickly set the course for where our organization will lead moving forward.”
Frist founded SCORE the year before a massive overhaul of Tennessee’s public education system in conjunction with the state’s $500 million federal award in 2010 from the Obama-era Race to the Top competition. At the time, Tennessee ranked near the bottom on national tests and was considered a laggard in public education.
SCORE produced a roadmap for improvement and convened state, local, and national partners to promote policies and practices aimed at greater student success. Since that time, Tennessee has become one of the nation’s fastest-improving states in student achievement.
Woodson, 46, recently was appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to the board of trustees at the University of Tennessee, her alma mater, and also serves as national co-chair of the Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy, which seeks to restore civic discourse and public trust in leading democratic institutions.
She has been mentioned as possible state education commissioner under gov.-elect Bill Lee, but told Chalkbeat that she’s not a candidate for that job. She said the timing of the handoff at SCORE is “purely coincidence.”
“My goal right now,” Woodson said, “is to make sure that the next governor and the next commissioner get off to a great start and continue the momentum that’s been created by partners all across Tennessee and the nation to help Tennessee students achieve their full promise and potential.”
Mansouri, 34, previously worked in political consulting and public relations and once was an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee. He attended Tennessee public schools and earned degrees from Rice University and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and also is a founding board member of Nashville Classical Charter School.
He told Chalkbeat that he comes into the CEO job at a “unique moment,” as SCORE approaches its 10th year and as a new governor and General Assembly take office.
“Our No. 1 priority over the next six months will be making sure that the new administration and new members of the legislature and new leaders in public office have the right support, knowledge, and context about how we have made so much improvement in Tennessee, “ he said.
SCORE, which has a 20-member staff and offices in Nashville, is funded by private donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. Among its supporters in Tennessee are the Hyde Family Foundation, the Ayers Foundation, and the Benwood Foundation. National supporters include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. (Chalkbeat, which is an independent and nonprofit news organization, also receives funding from some of these groups. You can find our full list of supporters here.)
The group’s engagement work includes the SCORE Prize to celebrate high-performing schools and districts and the Tennessee Educator Fellowship, which has developed more than 185 teacher-leaders across the state.
[Read more at Chalkbeat]Read More