Nashville needs a politically savvy director of schools able to celebrate the district’s strengths, while preserving diversity within the student body, according to a consulting firm hired to find a new director for Metro Nashville Public Schools.
“If somebody can reverse the flight of middle and upper class kids, this could be a model urban district,” said Bill Attea of Chicago-based search firm Hazard, Young, Attea & Associates Ltd. (HYA) in an interview Tuesday.
Based on forums and interviews with about 350 Nashvillians and public education stakeholders, HYA compiled a 23-page report detailing the sort of director needed by MNPS. The report includes summaries of district strengths and weaknesses, based on community input, in the context of traits needed in a director.
Attea told Board of Education members Tuesday afternoon that community members identified many positive practices present in Metro schools that deserve to be celebrated. These strengths will be worth little, however, if middle class students and families continue to exit MNPS.
Many Nashvillians cite diversity as a key selling point for enrollment of students at MNPS, Attea said. Parents like knowing that their children attend school with a true-to-life mixture of demographics. This diversity must be built upon and celebrated, Attea said, and preserved in part through the attraction of middle- and upper-class families back to MNPS. Currently, more than 70 percent of MNPS students are recipients of free and reduced meals.
“Residents felt MNPS should meet the challenge of competing successfully with neighboring districts by advertising the unique opportunities available in [MNPS,] and marketing diversity as a strength,” the report reads.
The report also names concerns including the state Department of Education’s high level of involvement in the district due to federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) laws, as well as the high value and ongoing importance of the district’s positive relationship with entities including the Mayor’s Office and community organizations.
With MNPS in the midst of a massive restructuring of district central offices, and the state Department of Education making changes that might otherwise be made by a new director of schools, there are concerns among school board members — as well as within the community at large — that the pool of possible directors of schools may be narrowed.
Attea said that if the board hires the right person, the district will no longer require state assistance. And some possible directors, Attea said, will find the challenges in Nashville compelling.
“We’re going to try to spin it into a positive,” Attea said.
Director search activities are somewhat crunched by school board elections. This year, as many as four of the nine board members could be replaced after general elections Aug. 7. New board members will be sworn in Aug. 26.
Previously, current board members had come to a consensus that a new director of schools should be offered a contract by the end of September. Board of Education chair Marsha Warden said that dates concerning the naming and interviewing of candidate finalists remain uncertain, and mentioned late September or early October as possible time frames for offering a contract to a new director.
The board is working to create a slate of professional development programs for new board members, who will be called upon to hit the ground running this fall.
Warden said she was pleased with the report of the search firm, and added that it’s “nice” to have an outside consultant come to the district and highlight positive points.
“I’m excited,” Warden said. “I think it was a good process.”
To view the complete report of the search firm, visit The City Paper’s Political Animals blog.