Penny Schwinn is scheduled on Feb. 4 to take the reins of Tennessee’s education department, where she’ll oversee 600 full-time employees and work on new Gov. Bill Lee’s agenda for public education.
Schwinn is now winding down her obligations in Texas, where as chief deputy commissioner over academics she has been responsible for the work of about 350 employees and half of the programs of the Texas Education Agency.
“As you would want with any public official, I want to make sure we have a really strong transition so that my team is taken care of and the work moves forward in Texas without massive disruption,” she said.
She plans to pack and move to Tennessee next week and expects her family to join her in the spring.
“My husband and I have a 6-year-old and 3-year-old at home, so we’re helping them through this transition and making sure they feel supported in our move,” she said of their two daughters, who eventually will attend public schools in Nashville.
Schwinn, 36, was the final cabinet appointment announced by Lee before the Republican governor took office over the weekend. She is a career educator who started in a Baltimore classroom with Teach For America, founded a charter school in her hometown of Sacramento, California, and has worked as a top state administrator in Delaware and Texas.
In an interview Wednesday with Chalkbeat, she described how she’s straddling two states and getting up to speed for her new job.
She plans to dig into details to prepare for testing that begins on April 15 under current vendor Questar. Simultaneously, she’ll scrutinize the state’s request for proposals outlining what Tennessee wants from its next testing company when the assessment program moves to a new contract next school year.
The request for proposals is expected to be released in the next few weeks.
“I’m going to be the person who is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the new vendor is incredibly strong for Tennessee students, so I want to see everything we’re requesting, ask questions, and make last-minute changes if that’s necessary,” she said.
Tennessee has struggled to deliver its own assessment cleanly since transitioning in 2016 to TNReady, which is aligned to new academic standards and was designed for most students to take online. Three straight years of problems either with online administration or scoring have dogged the state and seriously undermined its accountability work, putting everyone on edge with testing.
In hiring Schwinn, Lee touted her assessment work in two states, including cleaning up behind disruptions that marred testing in Texas soon after she arrived in 2016.
In Tennessee, Schwinn promises tight vendor management, whether it’s with Questar this school year or multiple companies that take over this fall.
“It’s incredibly important that we have accurate data about how our children are performing in Tennessee,” she said of TNReady. “This is my background both in Delaware and Texas in terms of assessment. It’s a good space for me to dig into the work and become an integral part of the team.”
In Texas, Schwinn came under fire for a $4.4 million no-bid award for a contract to collect special education data. A state audit released last September found that she failed to disclose having received professional development training from the person who eventually won a subcontract, which later was canceled at a cost of more than $2 million to the state, according to The Texas Tribune.
While Schwinn said she didn’t try to influence the contract, she told Chalkbeat that she and her department “learned a lot” through that experience, prompting an overhaul of the state’s procurement process.
“It’s important to have transparency when you’re a public official,” she said. “I believe strongly about that.”
As Tennessee’s education commissioner, it’s unlikely that she’ll serve on the evaluation committee that will choose its next testing company, but she plans to be “heavily involved” in the process as she works with programmatic, assessment, and technology experts.
“From a 30,000-foot view, commissioners typically aren’t on those selection panels. They’re able to ask questions and provide direction for the team,” she said.
Schwinn was in Nashville last week when Lee announced her hiring.
Until she is sworn in, interim Commissioner Lyle Ailshie is in charge, and he attended the governor’s first cabinet meeting on Tuesday.[Read more at Chalkbeat] Read More
NASHVILLE, TN — The United Way of Metropolitan Nashville has been selected as the lead organization to manage the implementation of the “Blueprint for Early Childhood Success,” the first-of-its-kind citywide literacy plan to double the number of Nashville third-graders reading on grade level by 2025. The ambitious Blueprint combines the thought leadership of literacy groups, faith and volunteer partners, parents, students, and educators to create a shared implementation framework to address Nashville’s early literacy deficit.
Using technical support provided by the Center for Nonprofit Management’s Collective Impact Accelerator program, the Blueprint for Early Childhood Success Steering Committee assembled a panel to select a lead organization to manage implementation going forward. The panel, which included representatives from the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Metro Nashville Public Schools, the juvenile court system and other top education nonprofits, unanimously selected United Way of Metropolitan Nashville to serve as the Blueprint’s backbone partner.
“The Blueprint is one of the most comprehensive literacy plans in the country, and I’m confident that United Way’s vision will bring it to life,” said Mayor David Briley. “I look forward to seeing how they accelerate progress on the plan in 2019.”
As the backbone partner, United Way is tasked with managing all of the moving parts of this complex plan, which includes aligning the activities of Blueprint partners, sharing learnings across partners and sectors, and ultimately ensuring that all 29 Blueprint recommendations are successfully implemented to the benefit of Nashville’s children.
“Early literacy is one of the greatest investments you can make in a child’s future, and one of our top priorities at United Way,” said Erica Mitchell, chief community impact officer of United Way of Metropolitan Nashville. “That is why we are honored to lead the Blueprint efforts into the future, and are committed to doing the hard work necessary to ensure that every student, regardless of background or school zone, has the chance to develop the reading skills necessary for success in school and in life.”
The Blueprint was first unveiled in October 2017 by a community working group of more than 20 civic, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations convened by the Nashville Mayor’s Office, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, the Nashville Public Library and the Nashville Public Education Foundation. Currently, two in three of Nashville’s third-graders cannot read on grade level, a challenge the city has faced for more than two decades.
The Nashville Public Education Foundation, the current interim backbone partner, will oversee the transition for the next six months, at which time United Way will manage the Blueprint in full.
To view the full Blueprint and learn more about its progress to date, visit blueprintforearlychildhoodsuccess.com.[Read more at The Tennessee Tribune] Read More
Twenty-three legislators in Tennessee’s House of Representatives and another nine in the Senate will serve as the gatekeepers for hundreds of bills dealing with public education over the next two years.
The highly anticipated committee assignments were announced Thursday by House Speaker Glen Casada and Senate Speaker Randy McNally to close out the first week of the 111th General Assembly.
Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville will return as chairwoman of her chamber’s education committee, while Rep. Mark White of Memphis will lead a newly combined House panel.
Both Republican leaders are strong advocates of Tennessee’s score-driven accountability systems for students, teachers, schools, and districts. And with 24 years of legislative experience between them, their appointments are viewed as stabilizing forces as Tennessee transitions to a new administration under governor-elect Bill Lee and a large class of freshmen in the House.
The Senate lineup doesn’t look significantly different from the previous session, but the House panel is markedly changed in both membership and structure.
Casada consolidated two House committees that have handled education since 2015. He also named four subcommittees to manage the heavy flow of legislation related to K-12 and higher education, which last year numbered more than 400 bills.
“The purpose of the subcommittees will be to vet the bills from the beginning,” said White. “If a bill isn’t written well or it’s not a good idea, the subcommittee should get rid of it.”
With this year’s legislature under another Republican supermajority, the GOP dominates membership on all committees. For Senate education, Raumesh Akbari of Memphis is the only Democrat, while Democrats comprise only a fourth of the membership of the House committee.
Each legislator files preferences for committee assignments, but the speaker of each chamber makes the final call on membership and leadership.
White’s elevation to chair the House panel was anticipated, since he was the only one of four education leaders in his chamber to return this year following the retirements of Harry Brooks and Roger Kane of Knoxville, and John Forgety of Athens. Last year, White chaired his chamber’s education subcommittee on administration and planning.
But the rise of Rep. David Byrd to chair a new subcommittee raised some eyebrows. A former teacher and principal, the Waynesboro Republican has been accused of sexual misconduct by three women when he was their high school basketball coach 30 years ago. Last fall, Casada defended Byrd, likening him to then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who was also facing allegations of sexual assault from decades earlier. Byrd eventually sailed past his Democratic opponent to secure a third term in office.
The committees will get to work the week of Jan. 28, and you can learn about their schedules on the General Assembly’s website.
Newly named members and chairs are:
House Education Committee
- Mark White, R-Memphis, chair
- Kirk Haston, R-Lobelville, vice chair
- Charlie Baum, R-Murfreesboro
- David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, chair, Administration Subcommittee
- Scott Cepicky, R-Colleoka
- Mark Cochran, R-Englewood
- Jim Coley, R-Bartlett, chair, Higher Education Subcommittee
- John DeBerry Jr., D-Memphis
- Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville
- Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville
- Jason Hodges, D-Clarksville
- Chris Hurt, R-Halls
- Tom Leatherwood, R-Arlington
- Harold Love, D-Nashville
- Debra Moody, R-Covington, chair, Curriculum, Testing and Innovation Subcommittee
- Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis
- John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, chair, K-12 Subcommittee
- Iris Rudder, R-Winchester
- Jerry Sexton, R-Bean Station
- Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville
- Terri Lynn Weaver, R-Lancaster
- Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville
- John Mark Windle, D-Livingston
Senate Education Committe
- Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, chair
- Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, first vice chair
- Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, second vice chair
- Mike Bell, R-Riceville
- Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City
- Steven Dickerson, R-Nashville
- Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin
- Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald
- Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol
Skandera: From 240 Winning Proposals From Around the Country, 4 Key Themes Emerge for Building a Pathway 2 Tomorrow
With a new year, new opportunities present themselves. This week, Pathway 2 Tomorrow: Local Visions for America’s Future announced its new $100,000 Innovation Award as part of its $430,000 investment in 24 locally responsive education solutions, spanning 17 states and the District of Columbia. With the support of more than 75 partner organizations, P2T solicited proposals from around the country and garnered 240 bold education solutions from all types of stakeholders — parents, entrepreneurs, researchers, and education leaders — from rural, suburban, and urban communities in 39 states.
Despite this diversity of geography and voices represented in the submitted proposals, four clear themes emerged that are informing our path forward.
1. Disrupt the Traditional Education Pathway
Within the numerous proposals submitted to P2T, and in policy conversations across the country, there is a clear push to blend K-12 and higher education and/or workforce preparation opportunities to blur the traditional system lines. There is a recognition that our siloed systems are failing to consistently deliver on the promise of college and career readiness for all students. Winning proposals from the Austin Chamber of Commerce, “Opportunity Austin: College and Career Readiness and Placement,” and YouthForce NOLA, “Real-World Skills for Real-Life Success,” are just two examples of efforts to prepare students for the successful pursuit of and placement in high-wage, high-demand career pathways or postsecondary education.
2. Put Each Learner at the Center of His or Her Education
Personalized learning, education of the whole child, and new instructional models focused on high-quality curriculum are emerging — and at least one of these is featured at nearly every major education gathering. Within the P2T proposals were numerous solutions for all learners along the continuum of education and a newfound focus on orienting the return on investment not solely toward core academic subjects but also on preparation of students as productive, contributing citizens. As an example, within this theme, the winning proposal from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Education Policy utilizes a curriculum tool to enable leaders to make the best curricular decisions in English language arts for the students they serve by mapping knowledge domains and providing critical analysis and reports to identify potential gaps.
3. Elevate the Education Profession
We have seen a surge in conversation, policy, and action that highlights how important teachers are when it comes to student success — whether in terms of salary pay, teacher voice in shaping policy, or preparation and professional development — and the imperative to keep teachers front and center in education transformation cannot be overlooked. As teacher shortages continue — and, in many regions, worsen — the need to re-envision the role and stature of educators must be deliberate and aligned with the value we know they bring to the classroom. For example, a winning proposal by The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning, “Neuroteach Global,” provides an innovative approach to professional development through a series of micro-learning experiences, using technology to revolutionize how educators develop their understanding of the science of learning and their ability to translate research into action.
4. Leveraging Resources and Relationships
Failure over the past few decades to include those most affected when it comes to policy and practice has been clearly recognized. Numerous proposals captured this mandate and went even further in pushing for a broader tent. For example, P2T’s Innovation Award co-winners, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence’s Student Voice Team and the Iowa Department of Education, illustrate the authentic engagement of students as partners in education policymaking.
In addition to these themes, a few noteworthy observations emerged within the 240 P2T proposals. First, an increase in the public and private sectors working together to initiate more entrepreneurial ideas and solve problems. And, second, a shift away from quality control (Do you have a diploma?) to quality assurance (How can you assure me you can do the job?). These are important trends to acknowledge as we continue to look for new ways to deliver on education’s promise. While we cannot abandon the foundational work of the past 20 to 30 years — a call for higher standards, greater transparency, and accountability, and increased equity and opportunity via choice — we cannot ignore the need for our system to be agile and adaptable, and proactively develop new ways to prepare the next generation in an ever-changing world.
As we look ahead, we should continue to challenge ourselves to chart a path that is locally and regionally responsive, doesn’t abandon the necessary and courageous work of the past few decades, and is relentlessly committed to building and delivering a better education for future generations. We all know education transformation is not for the faint of heart. It is hard work. It requires a commitment to work together and courage to see it through. These themes and the game-changing ideas represented in P2T proposals and emerging across our country are by no means a silver bullet; however, they can provide a framework for moving forward, for doubling down on our commitment to deliver on education’s promise.
In 2019, P2T and its partners will support the winning ideas, transforming them from three-page proposals into scalable impact plans. Through partnership, these ideas will be shared and matched with leaders, communities, states, and regions for implementation across the country.[Read more at The 74] Read More
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