Chamber sees ‘initial improvement’ in Metro schools

Thursday, February 18, 2010 at 12:45am

Encouraged by reform efforts ushered in by Director of Schools Jesse Register, this year’s Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce’s Education Report Card cites “a sense of cautious optimism” about the state of Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Set to be officially unveiled this morning, the annual report –– now in its 17th year –– uses the previous school year as its unit of analysis. In the past, committee members charged with drafting the report slapped a letter grade on the district’s performance. But this year’s report, like other recent versions, is absent any A, B, C, D or F grades.

“The committee saw evidence of initial improvement toward the end of the 2008-2009 school year,” said Marc Hill, chief education officer at the chamber. “At the same time, there’s a recognition that six months or even a year of progress is not enough to completely turnaround the school system. And there’s a sense that we’ve seen in the past great blips of progress followed by longer periods of mixed or negative results.”

The report’s 23-member committee was chaired by Christon Arthur, associate dean of education at Tennessee State University, and Cabot Pyle, director of charitable giving at the James Stephen Turner Family Foundation.

Positives noted from Register’s brief period as director of schools include his willingness to engage community partners and Mayor Karl Dean; his reorganization of the district’s central office; and the launching of his reform agenda known as MNPS Achieves.

In addition, the report says the Metro Nashville Board of Education has “become more focused on the business of student achievement and has unified around a new mission and vision for the district.”

Optimism, the report reads, also comes from the possibility of making adequate yearly progress for a second consecutive year, under federal No Child Left Behind benchmarks, as well as the “unique window of opportunity for dramatic education reform at the local and state level.”

But optimism, for committee members, comes with caution: student achievement at MNPS remains below the state average and a “complete turnaround of the system” will take three or five years of measurable progress.

Accordingly, committee members have provided 10 recommendations –– addressing school system performance, education funding and special student populations –– they hope MNPS administrators and the school board will consider implementing.

Recommendations are:

• Implement fully recommendations provided by the consulting group CSS International regarding better business processes

• Leverage the resources of Metro government to improve the quality of our schools –– create partnerships with the city library, parks, police and health departments

• Develop a district-level expectation for parental involvement that supports and reinforces each child’s learning outside of school by partnering with city officials, business leaders and community non-profits

• Complete the promised state funding for English Language Learners to meet the class ratio of 1:20

• Call a constitutional convention early in the next governor’s term for the purpose of designing an education funding and delivery system capable of achieving the new Tennessee Diploma Project standards

• Report annually the amount of funding each Metro school receives, in total and category of funds (teacher salaries, Title I, support, etc.)

• Educate students in the most inclusive setting possible, with appropriate training and supports for general education teachers

• Develop a system-wide strategy to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student population that includes recruiting multilingual teachers and principals, providing ongoing cultural competency and diversity training for all school staff, and staffing translation services adequately

• Create a spectrum of programs to meet the wide range of student special needs: from a Metro school or a charter school focused solely on supporting older special education students who are ready to transition from school to work, to an expansion of services that challenge gifted students to reach their full potential

• Connect Supplemental Education Services provided through the federal Title I program to the city’s after school initiatives, with the mayor taking a leadership role in promotion, coordination and quality assurance