Chamber, Dean, watching implementation of SLC’s at Metro schools

Friday, February 15, 2008 at 1:32am

City leaders will closely watch Nashville’s public school administration and Board of Education in coming months and years, as the district ramps up its implementation of Smaller Learning Communities (SLC’s) and Career Academies.

The district’s high school redesign — which, when complete, will include Ninth-Grade Academies and Career Academies in all Metro comprehensive high schools — is strongly supported by Mayor Karl Dean, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, and other political movers and shakers.

Initial funding for the redesign has already been provided by a landmark $6.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and the school board has voted both to implement the redesign and to support the new structure wholeheartedly.

However, almost everyone involved agrees that SLC’s will only be as effective as its administration.

“People are going to be watching next year to see [if] these new ideas have been implemented successfully,” Dean told The City Paper. “I think implementation’s the key. We have to implement them successfully.”

Marc Hill, chief education officer for the Chamber, told school board members at a public budget hearing that the district’s implementation of Career Academies, as well as its ability to address the benchmarks of federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation, are the two actions that parents and community members will be watching most closely in the next few years.

Considering that Metro Nashville Public Schools as a district is currently in “corrective action” status under NCLB — meaning there is an unprecedented amount of state involvement in the district’s governance and a chance that the state could “take over” in a few years if necessary improvement isn’t made — Hill’s prioritization is noteworthy.

As a concept, SLC’s can be difficult to translate into concise explanation, according to Metro public relations employee Noelle Mashburn.

SLC’s, in general, are divisions within larger high schools in which small groups of students interact with assigned leaders, teachers, staff, and guidance counselors.

Career Academies are SLC’s organized around specific careers or themes selected by students. Enrollment in all Career Academies will be strictly voluntary. The Career Academies are to be designed for students of all academic levels, whether kids plan to go to college or directly to the work force, and are supposed to integrate existing academic requirements with knowledge specific to students’ interests.

Within the next few years, each high school should have its own Ninth-Grade Academy, a self-contained unit for incoming freshmen designed to improve the transition to high school. Ninth-Grade Academies have already been established at McGavock, Hillwood and Antioch high schools.

The next implementation step will be forming Career Prep Centers for 10th-graders at select high schools, Mashburn said. The schools to be involved are still being determined.

District leaders say they hope SLC’s will not only have a positive effect on student engagement, graduation rates, and employment readiness, but will also be able to play a role in luring Nashvillians away from private schools.

But all parties involved emphasize that the new structure will only be effective if it is implemented well, a point underscored by results from the first year of Ninth-Grade Academies. Problems with registration at select schools, most notably McGavock, dampened some parents’ opinions of the new structure.

Board member Steve Glover, whose district includes McGavock, said registration for the Ninth-Grade Academy at McGavock turned into a “nightmare.”

He also, however, cited improvement in retention rates at other Metro schools with Ninth-Grade Academies.

Some board members, as well as Nashville community leaders, have said they believe support for SLC’s should be an integral characteristic of the next director of MNPS. Dean said he doubts that any educational administrator would advocate against smaller learning communities in general, given the research behind the concept linking it to student engagement, but said it would be important to find a district leader with management skills sufficient to make the redesign operate smoothly.

“I think the key thing is going to be how to build and administer what the board is already doing, and to do more. … I think that’s what we’ll be looking for,” Dean said. “I think it’s a positive thing that the board has been moving in the direction with smaller learning communities like the Big Picture School, the Career Academies, the Ninth-Grade Academies. Those are all good, but I think we need more.”

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By: tv8527 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

They are already making excuses for the programs failure,& where are the trade schools?

By: revo-lou on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Failure of what? We know what we have now is not working, so it is doubtful that anything else will be worse. The SLCs and the Big Picture High School are two of the best ideas this city has as far as schools, especially if you don’t want to keep making robots out of the children.

By: howelln on 12/31/69 at 7:00

They will be asking fifteen-year-olds to choose a career path. Only four career pathes will be available at each high school. If you want another path, you will have to provide your own transportation to another school, say from Antioch to McGavock. It seems as though the childrens carreer choice will be determined by zip code more than anything else. This is all based on vocational education models. I am afraid this will deter some students from considering varied college options because their path was narrowed for them.

By: JohnSevier on 12/31/69 at 7:00

We plainly need a centralized vocational school, to which the former and unlamented Director was opposed. But more than anything, we need to attract back into public schools those who fled the system for the smaller, private schools. The starting point is to quit talking about race and build community support for community schools.

By: howelln on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Yes, I think that would be a better option. Put strong vocational programs in a central place instead of watering them down all over the county. There could be state of the art facilities if the resources for, say auto repair or cosmetology, were at one place instead of trying to set something inferior up in a number of places.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 12/31/69 at 7:00

We definitely need strong vocational programs!

By: idgaf on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Anyone ever think of testing the teachers and seeing if they are actually qualified to teach? Many school districts have and were shocked at how many failed.Many of tyhe most qualified teachers are being siphoned off to pre K where they don't have the BS with the thugs.6.5 million to re-organise isn't going to teach them one more thing or stop one drop out.

By: Dragon on 12/31/69 at 7:00

I was perusing the MNPS website. Although I have no direct experience with Metro schools, it appears that they could cut back on some of the offerings and concentrate on the core curricula.Do they really need to offer Fibers and Dyes - Weaving and Batik? Really, is basketweaving next?And, new this year, World Geography AP has been renamed Human Geography AP. I thought human geography was part of sex ed.

By: howelln on 12/31/69 at 7:00

AP Human Geography (named by ETS, not MNPS) is about why certain people settle in certain places. It is not just about mountains and streams, but about why those mountains and streams are important to the well-being and economy of a nation. Go to http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/public/repository/ap07_humangeo_coursedesc.pdf and educate yourself.

By: slzy on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Dragon,can you basket weave? i am sure there are many patterns and techniques. can you splice a rope?I am not being mean,sorry in advance,but weaving should not be compared to,say, philosophy of basketball.Is'nt carbon fiber technologhy,fiberglass,and some surgical techniques based on weaving?Education should not have people running before they can crawl.

By: howelln on 12/31/69 at 7:00

Actually, a student must have a credit in fine arts to get into UT. So batik and weaving will cover that. Plus, if good enough, you can make a living at it.