There are 2,700 students crowding the halls of McGavock Comprehensive High, a larger number than any other public high school in the state.
Most people think that’s too much; some people think they have a remedy.
Though career academies are already in place and sharing space at McGavock, there’s talk now of dividing the school even more. There is political support for at least exploring whether it may be feasible to divide McGavock’s students and staff into separate schools all under the roof of the current facility.
Having too many kids under one roof makes it harder to build a strong community that engages students and parents, the thinking goes. And it isn’t financially possible to build or renovate enough new, smaller schools to replace the comprehensive high schools Nashville rolled out decades ago.
So, city and school leaders are looking at establishing multiple schools or programs under common roofs.
“I think you could build different schools inside of the [McGavock] building,” school board member Steve Glover said. “It’s the benefit of the smaller school, without the cost of building smaller schools.”
Glover is part of a newly established study group gearing up to seriously think about options for McGavock. Members of the group will consider various means of dividing up the school, including possibly establishing a magnet school or programs geared for math and science achievers within the comprehensive high school structure, Glover said.
The group is expected to involve plenty of politicians.
The mayor’s office will be involved. Metro Council members representing the McGavock area have been asked to participate, as have state Reps. Ben West and Mike Turner. Parents and other community members will be invited as well, Glover said, with the goal of getting a total of 25 to 30 people involved.
Work likely will take place over the upcoming summer and fall, with no changes happening until the 2010-2011 school year at the earliest.
Glover said the group’s work could eventually determine that no changes are needed, but the intent is for the entire cluster to be analyzed objectively.
“Expanding upon the smaller learning communities, … [we’re] taking everything off the table, looking at the capacity we have today, and reinventing the wheel,” Glover said. “I don’t really have a preconceived idea of what it’s going to look like when we’re finished.”
The layout of the McGavock building, in addition to the high number of students attending there, makes the school ripe for changes. McGavock is laid out in wings, with facilities spread out in such a way that establishing several schools under one roof would be possible.
At McGavock, the talk is coming at the end of a fairly unstable school year. A new principal, Karl Lang, was assigned to the school at the end of January. Prior to that, an interim principal, Mildred Saffell-Smith, led the school starting in the summer, after the Tennessee Department of Education assigned her there in place of former principal Mike Tribue.
Lang told The City Paper that McGavock is already taking steps toward dividing up the school, with wall-to-wall Career Academies set to be launched at McGavock this fall. Once that change is complete, every McGavock student will be part of a smaller community within the school, whether that’s a Ninth-Grade Academy or a Career Academy. Parents will be able to learn more about the changes on McGavock’s Web site, mcgavockhs.mnps.org, in the coming weeks.
Abbie Alexander, a McGavock senior due to attend Smith College this fall, told <i>The City Paper</i> that the size of McGavock means kids can get lost easily. For example, Alexander said she didn’t meet with her guidance counselor at the school until her senior year, and even then it was Alexander who initiated the meeting.
“It’s really easy to just move through the cracks,” Alexander said. “There’s a lot of room for students to fall through.”
McGavock already has some Smaller Learning Communities in place. But Alexander said it’s difficult to evaluate the program’s success this school year, given the administrative instability. What the school needs now, she believes, is a concrete vision of what it wants to be, and a commitment to carrying out actions needed to achieve that.
“What I feel like our school has been lacking this year has been a vision of what McGavock can be, beyond just making [Adequate Yearly Progress] and raising test scores and graduation rates — what we want our McGavock community to look like,” Alexander said. “I’m hoping that we can keep the stability to progress the vision and make sure our whole school feels like we’re moving toward something.”