Metro Director of Schools Jesse Register is prepared to hand greater autonomy to a handful of principals — an arrangement characterized as unprecedented for Nashville — as part of a new structure of school networks that the superintendent will unveil Thursday.
“With that autonomy, there will be increased accountability and some additional responsibilities for creating networks of schools that they work with and they are networking with on a regular basis,” Register told The City Paper in advance of a Thursday morning meeting with all Metro principals where he intends to discuss the plan in more detail.
“The point is to capture the expertise of these high-performing principals and allow them to spread that,” he added.
Within their own schools, Register said these principals, seven for now, will have new decision-making authority and flexibility on staffing, the selection of teachers and building leadership teams — upending the approach of the central office unilaterally making these calls.
Metro school officials reviewed student achievement data and graded leadership skills, among other metrics, to identify principals who will assume larger roles.
Selected principals are: Robbin Wall of McGavock High School; Chris Marczak of Bellshire Elementary School; Debra Smith of Jones Paideia Elementary School; Dorothy Gunn of Margaret Allen Middle School; Sarah Moore of Goodlettsville Middle School; Jud Haynie of Wright Middle School; and Dottie Critchlow of Hickman Elementary School.
These principals will be designated “network leads” under the plan, which has been in the works for several months via Metro’s ongoing collaboration with British-based Tribal Group, an education firm the district hired last year.
Principals will have four to six other schools within their networks (principals at these schools will have to agree to join). The idea is to share best practices, and as the model evolves, additional autonomy would be handed to these other participating principals.
The district doesn’t plan to compensate network principals financially for their new responsibilities, but it will in other ways.
“We want to give them flexibility to be in and out of their buildings,” Register said of the seven principal leads. “So, in terms of resources, there will be additional resources placed with these principals so that they will feel free to, maybe a day a week, work in another building part of the time with another principal.
“What we’re working toward here is helping all principals learn how to have more autonomy and to hold all principals to a higher standard,” he said. “It’s helping all of them how to be leaders in their own right.”
Register described the model as a one-year plan for now, with the option to continue or expand it in the future.
The move comes as the state’s accountability system recently placed Metro schools in an “intermediate” status, which district leaders have taken as a sign of progress. Under previous federal No Child Left Behind guidelines, Metro was routinely deemed a high-priority district.
“We’ve made good progress this year, but it’s just not enough,” Register said. “We’re going to really use this as a way to further improve and speed up the progress that we’re making in our schools system.
“We want to look at best practice,” he continued. “We have a number of principals in our zoned schools, a number of principals in our choice schools, that we think exemplify best practice.”