Last week’s presentation of the 2014 Education Report Card marked the end of my three-year term on the committee. My service on this committee has been a life-changing experience, so I feel the need to debrief. This is not an op-ed or position piece – more of a personal diary entry to kind of digest.
How it came to be
Education has always been important to me. As a high-school dropout, I felt like the pubic education system let me fall through the cracks. Early in my career I spent two years working as a teacher and technologist at a successful charter school in Washington, DC. After that I served as an Instructional Technologist at Belmont University before leaving for the private sector to make some money. Still, education remained the area that I hoped to focus on in regard to community service efforts.
In 2011, I briefly explored the idea of running for a seat on the Nashville Board of Education. I met with several people in the community while exploring that option and during that process learned about the Education Report Card committee. As a business owner and Nashville Chamber member, that seemed like a good fit for me. Luckily, they agreed to let me join.
The first year
I don’t think I realized what an enormous time commitment the Report Card committee was. I also had no idea how fulfilling and invigorating that time would be. As someone who loves to learn, there is no better hobby than getting to interview domain experts each week.
The committee’s focus topic that year was charter schools. That gave us the opportunity to tour STEM Prep, Nashville Prep, and others. It became clear that me that a strong and effective school leader was critical to school culture, which attracted and motivated great teachers, which led to student success.
Our recommendations were:
- The school board should develop a dashboard to review progress on key performance measurements at their regularly scheduled meetings.
- MNPS should create and implement a comprehensive strategy for integrating charter schools into the district, as a step toward creating an overall strategic plan that clearly connects all reform efforts.
- MNPS should develop a system to offer shared services for charter schools as a way to increase efficiencies and cost savings.
- MNPS should broaden the Innovation Zone to the bottom 25 percent of district schools.
- The Tennessee General Assembly should amend state law to implement a default closure mandate for charter schools that are placed on the state’s priority schools list for not meeting performance standards.
The second year
After the first year, I was completely bought in to the work of the Report Card committee. I dove in head-first and cleared my schedule and attended every meeting, school tour, work group, special presentation, etc. It was as if I had an auto-responder set up to invites – “yes! I’ll be there. What is the event?”
Our focus last year was on Common Core, but as we learned more about CCSS and how MNPS was implementing and supporting CCSS, I feel we had very little to add to that conversation other than “yep, keep up the good work.”
Our recommendations were:
- Metro Schools should take decisive action toward discontinuing their persistently lowest-performing, under-enrolled school programs under the new district Academic Performance Framework.
- Metro Schools should implement an aggressive strategy to recruit and retain high-performing bilingual teachers.
- Metro Government should allow enrolled K-12 students to ride Metropolitan Transit Authority buses at no cost to the student, making school choice a real possibility for Nashville’s students and families.
- The Tennessee General Assembly should stay the course in implementing Common Core State Standards and the corresponding PARCC assessments.
- Metro Schools should implement a strategy to communicate with parents, teachers, students and the broader public about the increased rigor and higher expectations that correspond with Common Core State Standards.
The third year
This has been a very interesting year. In August, we decided our area of focus would be Educational Leadership. Then in September, Dr Register made an announcement about my neighborhood (East Nashville) that incorporated many of the Report Card Committee’s recommendations from the previous two years. I dove in and quickly found myself in the thick of a surprisingly contentious discussion about if and how we should drastically fix under-performing schools East Nashville.
Between Report Card organized meetings and school visits, VIP Tours, Priority school meetings, community group meetings, ribbon cuttings, and private one-on-one meetings, I spent a TON of time on public education this year. It has been very challenging to balance that with my existing responsibilities to my family, running my business, and marathon training. I am extremely grateful for Erica’s support as she has really helped keep it all going.
Our recommendations were:
- Going forward, the Chamber’s Education Report Card Committee should annually monitor the implementation of MNPS’ strategic plan through 2018.
- Metro Schools should reform the pay supplement system to financially reward teachers who assume leadership roles at their schools.
- Metro Schools should catalog those issues most commonly identified as impeding school-level autonomy in order to identify potential policy or statute changes.
- The Metro School Board should recommit its adherence to policy governance by engaging in ongoing professional development.
- The Metro School Board should time the hiring of a new director of schools to take place after the election of Nashville’s mayor in 2015.
That 4th one received the most attention, but I believe all 5 are important and when implemented will help accelerate the improvement of public education in Nashville.
Obviously, I am still in the middle of the East Nashville discussion. I am currently serving on Dr Register’s East Nashville Advisory Committee as Elissa Kim’s appointee to represent Stratford Cluster parents. My company is a Pencil Partner as of this year and I hope to find ways to deepen and expand that relationship. I also have a pet-project that I plan to release in 2015. Other than that, I have no idea.
I don’t know where my education service home will be next. I do know that I have been inspired by Erica’s twice-weekly volunteering at Kirkpatrick and I am planning to do something similar with some of my time. I also feel that I have been effective in helping to find common ground while helping to push the bar higher and higher for public education in Nashville, so I would like to continue that. Does that look like participation in a group or organization? I don’t know. I do know that I am passionate about great public education and will continue to be involved.
Thank you Nashville Chamber of Commerce, Marc Hill, Stephanie Coleman, Whitney Weeks, and Ralph Shultz for giving me the opportunity to serve on the Education Report Card Committee. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and highly recommend it to others. I hope that my voice has been a positive part of the conversation. The experience has been transformative for me.
Press coverage of this year’s report
- News Channel 5: School Board Divisions Hampering Progress In Metro Schools (video)
- WSMV: Nashville Chamber report criticizes Metro School Board (video)
- Tennessean: Nashville Chamber wants training for Metro school board
- WPLN: Nashville Chamber Gives School Board A Low Grade In Presenting A Unified Front
- WMOT: Annual MNPS chamber report card critical of school board
- Tennessean: Schools are improving but progress is slow
- Tennessean: Karl Dean: Hire schools director after mayor election
- Tennessean: Don’t wait to choose Nashville schools director
- Business Journal: Here is the Nashville chamber’s wish-list for Nashville public schools in 2015
- Business Journal: Chamber’s report card says Nashville schools ‘made progress’
- TN Education Report: REPORT CARD ON MNPS