Are Metro Schools out of focus?

Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 2:11am

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,, 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.”

9 Comments on this post:

By: idgaf on 4/30/09 at 3:35

Oh Please. Where do these people come up with these ideas on how to spend money with little or no results.

By time they get to HS it is a little late to think about community when they have been bussed across town for the first 8 years.

While the enrollment may be the largest here it is not uncommon in other states especially in the northeast and fla.

Divideing it up in the same building will only add admistrators and building more schools will add to operational costs.

Seems to me they keep coming up with new reasons to cover their incompetance.

By: courier37027 on 4/30/09 at 7:40

This is another image article, using focus group words such as community, stability, progress, vision. Results will be the same, but parents of failing students will feel good.

Introduce private school or voucher options? Not on your life.

By: localboy on 4/30/09 at 8:05

idgaf writes;
"While the enrollment may be the largest here it is not uncommon in other states especially in the northeast and fla."
Oh Please.If all your friends were jumping off the bank into the rocks, would you have to follow?
By the way, I believe both the NYT and the WSJ have run recent stories about NYC megaschools instituting this same blueprint. So all our friends who built those monsters are also running into similar problems.

idagaf had a good point - this idea has additional costs written all over it, if we allow the same people to implement it as have built the present system, without more oversight.
If they want to try this idea out, fine - you get to do it with what's in the budget, with maybe an inflation adjustment each year. Any increase in the overall school system budget should have to have a comparable increase in funding for charter schools.

By: BigPapa on 4/30/09 at 8:35

The schools, the schools, the schools..... the real problem is that teaching and learning are just a small % of what the schools are expected to be. We have pushed everything on the schools and then we wonder why they're expensive and screwed up.

For middle and high school the entire model needs to be blow up and started over again.
-There's no reason that school should last 7 hours a day.
-There's no reason that kids should have to take the same classes every day.
-There's no reason that we should tie athletics to the school. (and I LOVE hs sports, but we should move to a European club system.)
-There's no reason why we can't have REAL job training and apprenticeships/internships that have HS grads ready to do more than flip burgers when they graduate.
-There's no reason why we should assume EVERYONE is going to college.

Make going to school, especially HS MORE like college and less like elementary school.

By: Anna3 on 4/30/09 at 9:15

Wow! Mayor Karl, Metro Schools, and Karl Lang (Formerly the "Hellwood" Principal) can do for McGavock what they did for Hillwood...that is to move it from a focus on getting kids in a "Can we survive today?" metality. These High Schools are way out of control...and the teachers won't even mix with the kids...they hide out in the teachers lounce between classes! When will Metro return DISCIPLINE to the long as the "Inmates" run the asylum...and we've got liberals with our "unlimited" cash to play with....all we will get is another "Program" and another PR Campaign to make us "Feel" better. We need new leadership!

By: MWPYLE on 4/30/09 at 9:19

As a 1977 graduate of "big Mac," the school was set up with ''small schools" initially. We had a general principal--small school principals. I was in "South"---my homeroom, guidance counselor, lockers and principal was "south". I don't know IF or WHEN it changed, but it worked then.

Of course, we had a different group of students. There were no "magnet" schools and MAC was as close to it as Metro had at the time. I took a full slate of AP classes...We were #1 in state quiz bowl and history team--as well as cross country, basketball, and baseball. And yes, the band was unbeatable....

We were also JUST digesting the integration of Cameron and 2 Rivers...and the patterns for that were still unfolding. At least they are now past THAT part of the problem.

By: artsmart on 4/30/09 at 10:06

It is not the size of the school but the involvement of the teachers and staff. I went to an inner city school 36 years ago. We had 3000 kids in 3 grades and certainly we had our share of problems. But teachers and staff were involved with the students and knew the trouble makers. As soon there was a rumbling of a problem they would keep an eye on the problem kids. The problem now is that kids are bused all over the place after elementary school and the Middle School and High Schools are just down right unfriendly. You feel more like your in a detention center than a school. Until this atmosphere changes nothing else will. Change the attitudes by staff and teachers and the schools will change. Unfortunately that will not be instant like everyone wants. That is why you do the right thing (Board) all the time so it does not get this way. Parents want to be involved not threatened.

By: michael thomas on 4/30/09 at 10:41

What can the principlals and teachers do. They're hands are tied. The teacher sends the problem student to the office nothing happens but a good talking to. They call the parents and they say not their child is cutting up. If you try to suspend them, you run the record of messing with the (nclb) crap. If parents really want to get involved stay on task of what is going on with your child at school. And speaking about the school, i really think they need more displinary measures to deal with the parents since the parents are not doing what they need to do at home. Time out right, what a joke. And in closing i will leave on this note. Parents when you go to your childs school quit babying the child. I went to school and i saw for myself a child that is in the 3rd grade being held in mamas lap. Also stop bringing in outside food, it;s not fair for others that cannot afford it. If you buy outside food then quit talking about how much money is being spent trying to deal with students.

By: MathGeek on 4/30/09 at 6:18

"...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."

This is not due to the size of the school, but rather the things that have been assigned to counselors that have absolutely no relation to counseling. Planning and implementing all the standardized tests and doing all kinds of clerical work that is growing by the minute keep the counselors from seeing the students. Counselors and their Master's degree education and training are the highest paid secretaries in the state. Hire secretaries for the counseling department, and then counselors will be able to meet with students. When that happens academic achievement goes up, drop out rate goes down, and students will be able to identify what they really want to do after high school and be prepared to do it.

By the way, "guidance counselor" is an out-dated title, they are now "school counselors" which, if you know anything about counseling and counseling history, has a whole different set of responsibilities and expectations.