Officials at Metro Nashville Public Schools, working hand in hand with the Tennessee Department of Education, are turning to bold measures to help turnaround the district’s two lowest-performing schools.
The plan would likely turn leadership of Cameron Middle School over to a still-undetermined charter organization. Meanwhile, Glencliff High School would use new financial resources to implement a host of reform strategies, including longer school days and a full-year school calendar.
New initiatives are fueled by as much as $2 million in additional federal dollars to be allocated to both Glencliff and Cameron, a process carried out by state officials. The intention is to work to ensure changes are executed by the start of the 2010-2011 school year.
Announced Wednesday at a news conference at Glencliff, the measures are a direct response to the state’s recently drafted Race to the Top application that outlined a so-called “achievement school district,” a new state-controlled system comprised of 13 underperforming schools across Tennessee, which includes Nashville’s Glencliff High School and Cameron Middle School.
After continued failures to reach academic benchmarks, both Glencliff and Cameron already fell under the “Restructuring 2” category of the federal No Child Left Behind standards, which grants the state the authority to implement alternative governances at both schools. Though the state hasn’t taken over either school, both have historically benefited from state resources.
“When we started hearing about changes in the legislation that would create an achievement school district, I became very concerned,” Director of Schools Jesse Register said. “The easy approach to take in this district would have been to say, ‘OK, state, take them over and do what you will with them and fix them.’ I don’t think we have to start over with Glencliff High School or Cameron Middle School.”
Calling the plans “tailor-made for each school,” Register said at Glencliff he hopes to continue the progress engineered by Tony Majors, the school’s young principal who educators across the board laud for his direction at one of Tennessee’s most diverse schools –– Glencliff has students from 44 different nations.
“Because of our diversity, we do have special needs,” said Majors, adding that longer school days and a yearlong school year help address those needs. “That is not an excuse. We still have extremely high expectations to exceed benchmarks. We just want to make sure students have the resources to do so.”
Though Register noted Cameron, a feeder-school for Glencliff, has enjoyed improved value-added test scores in recent years, he said he wants to “push the program at Cameron to a higher level of support,” and submitted requests for proposals Wednesday to seek out national charter organizations to enter the picture. Register said he expects to receive all charter inquiries by March 1.
“We want to hear what outside providers may bring to the table to help us at Cameron,” Register said of the charter-school approach. “We do not want to disengage from Cameron Middle School, and so one idea is to transition a charter element in, one grade at a time.”
Register said he spoke with Cameron’s faculty, acknowledged they expressed some concern, but believes many of the teachers –– and perhaps some administrators –– can remain at the school.
“Some may want to stay and some may not,” he said. “I don’t anticipate a complete ‘fresh-start’ at Cameron. I think there are a lot of teachers there ... who will continue to have a place there.”
Though Glencliff and Cameron’s initiatives pre-empt the fate of whether Tennessee lands a chunk of the coveted Race to the Top funds, Tim Webb, the state’s education commissioner, pointed out that new funds could also be used to boost those school’s new turnaround initiatives.
Webb said the education department is already in the process of talking with officials of the other 11 schools that are part of the new achievement school district –– eight of the other eligible schools are part of Memphis City Schools, and one each is in Jackson, Chattanooga and Knoxville. He said all schools would be reviewed on a case-to-case basis.
“If it becomes necessary that we absolutely have to take a strong-armed approach, then we will,” he said. “We have the authority to do that. We just felt [in Nashville] that after conversations with Dr. Register and his staff, we saw great things going on, so we want to build on those things.”