Dean's letter to state board on Great Hearts surprises some, puts mayor in 'odd' position

Thursday, July 19, 2012 at 10:05pm

Mayor Karl Dean’s letter asking the Tennessee State Board of Education to approve Great Hearts Academies’ Nashville charter proposal — and undo a decision of the local school board in his government — has raised eyebrows among some Metro officials.

“I’m surprised that the mayor would send a letter asking the state to overturn a decision made by our local school board,” At-large Councilman Jerry Maynard told The City Paper.

Maynard, who opposes the controversial Great Hearts charter proposal, said the council doesn’t want the “state coming in and meddling in our business, and overturning policies that we pass,” a principle of local autonomy he said should extend to the school board.

Leading up to Great Hearts’ Tuesday appeal hearing before the state board of education, Dean addressed a letter to the Gov. Bill Haslam-appointed board that made it clear where he stands on the issue.

“I am writing to let you know my strong support for the charter application of Great Hearts Academies and to ask you to overturn the District Board’s denial of that application,” Dean wrote in the July 16 letter.

The mayor added that the Phoenix-based charter group, which has applied for an initial charter in West Nashville and five across the county, is “just the type of high-quality choice that many Nashville families seek.”

After raising concerns about Great Hearts’ commitment to diversity, the Metro school board voted to reject its proposal in May before denying it again on appeal last month. Great Hearts has now taken its fight to the state board, which is expected to vote on its appeal on July 27.

Dean, the head of Metro, has put himself in the unique spot of opposing action of a Metro board and entity, one that receives city dollars and legal counsel from the Metro Department of Law. Unlike other commissions that are mayoral-appointed, however, Davidson County citizens elect the nine-member school board.

At-large Councilman Ronnie Steine said Dean’s letter “strikes me as odd.”

“The folks at the [Metro] school board are being so conscientious in terms of licensing charter schools,” Steine said. “It strikes me as very odd that those of us that are elected to other offices don’t trust their process. I find it very strange.

“I would hope the folks of Great Hearts would continue to work with our school board to put together a proposal that meets their criteria, instead of this running around them,” Steine added.

Dean, in recent years, has opposed moves by the Republican-dominated state legislature to intervene in Metro affairs. After in 2011 Dean signed into law a bill that required Metro contractors to extend nondiscrimination polices to gay, lesbian and transgender workers, the General Assembly moved swiftly to nullify it.

A year later, Dean supported state legislation to undo that nullification. In a March letter, he argued the local law “was an important expression” of Nashville being a welcoming place. He also said local ordinances deserve the respect of the state.

“Now is not the time to abandon our belief in local government,” he wrote.

In recommending the denial of Great Hearts, Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register’s administration has criticized what it dubs “locational diversity” — the idea of placing its five schools in different parts of the county to achieve racial and socioeconomic diversity. Skeptical of Great Hearts’ busing plan, Metro school board member Ed Kindall has applied a different word to the proposal: segregation.

Great Hearts officials have rejected that assertion, arguing the 1.5-mile circumference around its proposed first school on White Bridge Road is racially diverse. Dean, meanwhile, believes the charter organization has satisfied diversity issues.

“While the district board’s denial of Great Hearts’ application seems to be centered on diversity concerns, Great Hearts has shown a clear commitment to diversity by offering to open five schools in different areas of Nashville,” Dean wrote earlier this week.

Kindall, who has served on the Metro board since the mid-1980s, also used the word “odd” to describe the mayor’s letter to the state board.

“When you think about it, we represent the city on the board of education, and of course, he’s the leader of the city,” he said. “It’s sort of like asking the state to overturn something the council did.

“In all the time I’ve been a part of the board, I haven’t seen the mayor get involved so much in an issue like this,” Kindall said. 

26 Comments on this post:

By: Ask01 on 7/20/12 at 4:50

Considering this took the board by surprise, it seems High Lord Mayor Dean is not communicating with citizens elected employees supposedly representing our interests.

Just another example of "The Ego" doing things his way with no regard for the citizens wishes. Except this time he and his puppets didn't walk in lock step.

Let the discord continue! Maybe we can at least minimize the damage Mayor Dean is capable of inflicting during the remainder of his reign.

By: JudgeRoyBean on 7/20/12 at 9:03

I can't really speak (yet) to the Great Hearts issue specifically but I do have a question regarding the comments by people quoted in the article that have to do with diversity. What is the standard for racial and socioeconomic diversity ? How do you know when it is achieved?
My youngest son went to Inglewood Elementary. I guess he was in the racial and socioeconomic minority. If I recall, it seems like about 70-75% of the kids there were on free or reduced lunch plans and most of the students were black. This fall he'll be going to Stratford. From my visits to the school it doesn't look like there is a lot of racial diversity, at least to me.
So what is this diversity they speak of and how do we know when we have it? My fear is that decisions are being made using some standard that isn't defined and may not even exist. Can someone help me understand this?

By: Nashvillesanity on 7/20/12 at 9:30

Whether you're for or against charters or Great Hearts, this is one of those times when a public official can do real damage by attacking the process to win on the issue.

The State of Tennessee has shown a greater and greater willingness to intervene in Nashville local governance issues. Everything from who we want to contract with to our local schools is being heavily dictated by a less-representative body. (The more people you represent the further you are away from your constituents.)

This represents the first time of the Mayor's second and final term he's shown a willingness to focus on his larger political ambitions instead of defending the power and authority of the government he leads. (That's why they make all politicians swear to uphold the laws of the government they join - we don't want representatives leading with a conflict of interest.)

When the local mayor asks a higher government to change the policy of his government there is a real problem. This is a power grab.

The Mayor already gets to deal with the top-3 most powerless council's in the United States. When 40 people have to agree with each other its easy for the Mayor to divide and conquer. Hell, on the biggest issue the City Council faces he doesn't even have to divide and conquer; if the Council doesn't pass a budget that effectively mirrors the mayor's budget by a certain date, the Mayor's budget passes automatically.

With all of that power the Mayor of Nashville needs more?

The Mayor should immediately retract his letter and set about addressing the issue of local charter schools in the proper manner: being a leader who solves the problem by working with the boards and local elected officials to get something done, not by circumventing the very government he was elected to lead.

By: smerrick on 7/20/12 at 9:30

These seem to make sense to me:

Three Reasons Why...


Teacher Recruitment & Certification
According to Great Hearts’ core educational plan and the application submitted to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Great Hearts Academy cannot expand in Tennessee.

The Great Hearts model for recruiting teachers is to hire young, liberal arts graduates [from select schools] who do not have teaching certificates. While this may be acceptable in Arizona, where Great Hearts is based, Tennessee teachers must be certified.

Great Hearts gave no solutions in its application that would comply with Tennessee state law on teaching certificates. The group’s own application clearly states “the organization cannot expand in states where teacher certification requirements interrupt its proven and growing teacher pipeline.” Tennessee is such a state.

Nashville has a diverse student population, representing many races, countries, languages, socioeconomic backgrounds, and abilities. Nearly one-quarter of public school students come from homes where English is not the first language. About 70% of our students receive free or reduced price meals. In our existing charter schools, 13% of students are exceptional education students.

The Great Hearts team does say it could open a Nashville school in the future to serve more economically disadvantaged students. But that would be a separate school.

For decades, Nashville has worked to integrate schools and to provide a quality education for everyone. We cannot accept a plan that calls for separate schools for students of different backgrounds.

In its initial application, Great Hearts presented no plan for transportation. Students would find their own ways to school, which would exclude many students from even applying for admission.

After the Board’s initial denial, Great Hearts amended its application to include limited transportation for some students. The new plan was to send two school buses to two targeted neighborhoods—if a high number of students were attending Great Hearts and the neighborhood were 15 minutes or more away from campus. This plan is too vague and too limited to ensure a cross-section of students from across Nashville have the opportunity to attend.

In addition, the Great Hearts transportation plan carries an expiration date. After two years of bus service, all transportation would stop.Getting to and from school is a major factor in school choice for many families, which is why Metro Schools operates school buses and provides MTA bus passes to eligible low income students.

Metro Schools has a rigorous process for vetting and approving charter school applications and has earned national recognition for its collaboration with charter schools. As a district, we work with charter schools for the betterment of our students and we want charter school operators that are willing to work with us, too.

All of us in Nashville want every student to achieve at the highest possible level. Metro Schools embraces diversity and is committed to making every neighborhood, magnet and charter school a strong choice for families.

By: on 7/20/12 at 9:35

Karl Dean could express his opinion as a resident of Nashville, but should not have done so as Mayor representing the Metropolitan Government. Maybe it was written on his personal stationery from him individually, which would have been fine. Otherwise, it really doesn't look good.

By: Nashvillesanity on 7/20/12 at 9:41

And what's this "waaa," "that's very strange...," "that's odd..." baby bull-crap reaction out of the Council? Steine, Maynard, and Dean have done so much backslapping, rubbing elbows and handshaking over the years they're afraid to engage in any public confrontation with one another when they (should rightly) disagree with each other.

Give me a break. You'd think with all of the cash pouring into their campaigns due to their ability to preserve their incumbency, they would prefer to hold on to the insignificant shrivel of power they had left.

The garden of our local government is a giant Venus Flytrap, fed by the large and small flies of local monied interests, surrounded by bright pansies and occasional forget-me-nots.

By: frodo on 7/20/12 at 9:55

I'm with JudgeRoy on this. There is little concern about schools that are predominately one race, as long as that race is not white. And there is little concern about schools that are predominately one income level, as long as that level is not upper. Let's wield this sword and the "high ideals" behind it in both directions. Government is too much in the business these days of waging war exclusively on whites and the wealthy. They are white, therefore they are racists and sons of the Confederacy is the template behind so many decisions (even if their ancestors arrived from Europe after slavery or fought for the Union). And if we worked hard, built wealth, sometimes risking everything we had and sometimes failing multiple times before or bank account filled up...well, we didn't do that ourselves...government did that for us, we are told. Therefore, something as benign as opening a school in a mostly white and mostly wealthy neighborhood is a big no-no. Such people must be penalized. It is written in the script.

I'm no racist. But when school boards and government make endless decisions based on race...well it starts looking like SOMEONE is racist. And I'm not rich, but when school boards and governments keep penalizing those who are--well, I don't call that equality for all.

I'm no big fan of the mayor, but if he is acting within the law, then let him have his say.

By: pswindle on 7/20/12 at 11:30

Why have an elected School Board or anything if someone higher can go in and undo the decision made by the governing body? I think that Dean overstepped his authority.

By: hummingbirdhill on 7/20/12 at 11:51

I am a teacher and I swear I don't know who i work for anymore. Do I work for Dr. Register, the principal evaluating me, the school board, the chamber of commerce, a charter school, a special school district director, the state school board, the Mayor, the Governor, the parents, the people who insist that I can not do my job even though my scores and my evaluation are 5's?

At one time I thought the only person I worked for was the student. I think I am going to stick with that and ditch all of the above.

By: frodo on 7/20/12 at 11:53

pswindle, does a president overstep his authority when he advocates against the decision of a federal appeals court (like in the case of Obamacare)? No (unfortunately). It is his prerogative. And it is the mayor's prerogative to express his non-binding opinion on a local matter. The mayor is not legally bound to always agree with the school board. Whether he does out of political or practical motivation is for him to decide.

By: frodo on 7/20/12 at 12:06

Hummingbirdhill, you work for no one but those you report to, and that certainly doesn't include the student nor (God forbid) the chamber of commerce nor the mayor. But if a mayor's non-binding recommendation has sway with an arm of the state that has the legal right to overturn a school board decision, well then I assume your bosses will let you know what you need to do. Maybe teachers need to be less distracted by such goings on. And, besides, I don't see how a decision about a charter school has any bearing at all on the duties of a public school teacher.

By: InterestedObserver2 on 7/20/12 at 12:55


The question is asked, why have an elected school board if the state board can overturn the local board's decision...Checks and Balances. Fundamental to US government structure. I am loosely following this in the news. Here are the facts that matter the most to me:
1. Metro school performance (as measured by objective student testing) is not impressive by anyone's account 2. Metro School racial diversity in its schools across the board is no different that what would be represented in Great Heart's schools 3. Unsettling tax payer flight form public schools in Davidson county after the elementary school years (presumably due to dissatisfaction with public options necessitating families spend additional dollars on top of their taxes for a quality education for their children) 4. Great Hearts and KIPP school performance (as measured by objective student testing) is far superior to Metro schools. 5. The Charter evaluation board recommended Approval of Great Hearts on thier appeal to the local board

I find it hard to believe that adding options, at no cost to the taxpayer, is a bad thing. If the Charter school does not perform, noone will chose to go there and they will close. If they perform, they will be oversubscribed and a blind lotery takes effect.

Last point..I am amazed that parents argue against Great Hearts because "if there is another option is West Nashville, more students will siphon away from the traditional public middle / high schools". Why sacrifice the education of our kids to protect a poorly performing public education system? If Great Hearts or Charter X, Y or Z comes to town and every kid in the city ends up choosing a charter school because they outperform the traditional public schools, why is that a bad thing? This country was not built on protecting mediocrity.

By: Balo on 7/20/12 at 1:56

It does not take long to tell the truth. The local & state politicians strongly support the charter school movement for one reason. They are now in position to open up a revenue stream from the owners of the schools to donate monies back to their political campaigns.

Case in point, the Rocket School, which the Chamber strongly supports and it has been awarded control over a Nashville school, has a history of campaign contributions to politicians in California & in Colorado. Our tax dollars for education at work.

What a reaction from Councilman Steine? Ronnie Osborne would have more to say than that and also with a stronger tone. It is time for the voters of District 9 to elect someone who is not afraid to tell it like it is and will go toe to toe with any politician.

By: CitizensWin on 7/20/12 at 2:32

If the Mayor can send a letter to the State Board Of Education,

Then we certainly can send a message:

Deny Great Hearts Nashville Charter

Signing this petition is to tell the TN State Board of Education that Great Hearts Academies of Arizona must be denied building a charter school per the recommendation of our elected school officials.

To overturn the school boards decision on a state level is not the will of the people that voted for their own school board.

Please sign the petition and pass it on

Thank You

Citizens Win

By: CitizensWin on 7/20/12 at 2:51

We believe that the current 500 students in Charter and the proposed 3000 additional students at 25 million cannibalizes the funds for the entire 79000 students currently enrolled. The more noble goal is to make all schools equally important without further segregating the student population.

Because we believe that the slippery slope of charter schools sends the message to children that life is a game of chance and privilege. And when those children grow up with a chip on their shoulder, the individual and community suffer the consequences. 'If I had only gotten into Hume-Fogg...', should not be the mantra of 78500 children starting out as adults. 'I loved my school' is a far greater remembrance.

Trust funds, wealth, and privilege may pay for private educations like MBA, Harpeth Hall, USN, and Ensworth. And that's fine. But Citizens who win see a greater good in addressing the larger audience of students without penalty.

Help support public education by keeping it public!

By: frodo on 7/20/12 at 4:01

Balo, another case in point...the teachers unions regularly and heavily support candidates that will keep a lid on those pesky charter schools.

By: frodo on 7/20/12 at 4:03

Give us a break, CitizensWin. What you want is to prop up the teachers union monopoly.

By: District 8 on 7/20/12 at 4:34

frodo, please enlighten us...what is monopoly currently held by the teachers' union? You assert to have knowledge of the motivation of the teachers' union...what is the source of your first-hand knowledge? Also, how does MNEA's current endorsed school board candidates mesh with your view that they only support candidates opposed to charters?

By: Ask01 on 7/20/12 at 6:04

I can't wait to see if all those who blindly followed Mayor Dean, chanting the mantra, "He knows best, he knows best, he knows best," when he was ramming through all his 'improvements' to 'make Nashville a better place' will fall in lockstep with him on this issue.

Perhaps, if the scales fall from their eyes, the flock will recognize everything he has done can be used as accomplishments padding his resume when seeking a loftier political position after he is finished squeezing every drop from Nashville and the residents.

We are but mere stepping stones on his quest for more power. It seems to me, so long as his agenda is fulfilled and political ticket fully punched, his concern for the citizens is so much political correctness and eyewash.

By: CitizensWin on 7/20/12 at 9:44

@ frodo

Your PR talking point to change the subject is not working.

This Arizona outfit has been turned down TWICE by elected school board officials.
They are appealing to the state with the Mayor carrying their water..

So WTF does a teacher's union have to do with that?

By: pswindle on 7/20/12 at 11:17


The Congress passed Obamacare, and the GOP could not stand for those in need to have a choice of affordable healthcare. They carried this all the way to the Supreme Court, and lost. I just want to say that you know nothing about the importance of Unions. Your lack of knowledge is showing.

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Mayor want to be's: At large Councilmen Steine and Maynard of course
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By: italiaflair on 7/25/12 at 8:20

The relationship between education and the State of Tennessee is widely disassociated from one another. My wife and I just moved here to the Nashville area from Phoenix two months ago. Our biggest issue and anxiety in planning our move was the lack of educational options readily available in the greater region. All we have heard since we got here was how great the Williamson County school system is. Well I've got news for you, it is not that great folks. If you want to compare it to other parts of Tennessee and other Counties then fine, but you have to look at the baseline you are creating this statement from. You can line up 3 broken trains and say that one is better than the other, but they are still all broken trains right? Even though one might look brighter and cleaner than the other. Our children suffered the same circumstantial regional and socioeconomic challenges while living in Phoenix and it is because of these Charters that both our children receive straight A's and have advanced curriculum running through their early childhood minds. Our Children attended Charter schools in Phoenix where education is the only topic at every meeting from the Principal to the faculty and students. We lived in a fantastic little city called Anthem so this had nothing to do with economy it had to do with the right choices for education. These schools are parallel to the Great Hearts Academy set of schools. Although we did not attend the Great Hearts Academy due to other fantastic options alike.. it is these state wide programs of Charter Learning that enable the many options of public education in the Metro area of Phoenix. It is within this educational platform that they have learned Core Knowledge such as, Phonograms, Singapore Mathematics, Base Latin, and Advanced Journal Writing, as well as music and sports activities included at both schools. My wife and I were gleaming with happiness when we heard the words 'great hearts' on the news and on the internet forums and we will be the first applicants at this school to be a driving force behind the educational platform they bestow. This is about higher education, plain and simple, and we have seen its knowledge platform elevate our children to a new standard we couldn't have dreamed of. Many countries around the world are advancing through enhanced curriculum's as early as 2 years old. Why would we limit ourselves, our family, and our nation of such great things ~