Love and Prayers to a Grieving Mother and Father 

This is a blog dedicated to Nashville families and one of our families has suffered a tragic loss.
We stand with the city of Nashville in support of our Mayor and her husband as they grieve the loss of their only son, 22 year old Max Barry. 
In a Tennessean interview with the Honorable Richard Dinkins, the judge lovingly requested that all Nashvillians “let her be Megan at this time.” I couldn’t agree more. A mother and father are suffering an unimaginable loss and may they take all the time needed to rebuild and learn to navigate in a world without their only child. 

Sending prayers of peace to Megan and Bruce Barry.  

Rest on, Max. ❤

See Statement by Mayor Megan Barry and Bruce Barry.

Remembering the Lens of Hope…

Just two hours ago I published a short post on Tennessee’s plan to educate every child through innovative strategies and how the state is leading the nation in changing the game. I wrote of belief in our state officials and of hope (though cautious).

Then this happened.

What do you see? Or better question, what’s missing?


Click here for more information on the initial analysis of TNReady scores.

Looking Through Lens of Hope at Tennessee’s Plan to Honor “All Means All”

In this The 74 article, Doug Mesecar writes glowingly about Tennessee’s plan to honor the federal education mandates driven by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The writer pens the type of hope in Tennessee’s strategic plan that could only come from someone who hasn’t been victimized by or seen first-hand the educational injustices of the past.

While Mesecar does an excellent job detailing Tennessee’s promise to deliver personalized instruction to each student, my blog has been focused on making sure we don’t allow students of color to fall through the cracks. As mentioned in the article, large performance gaps exist between racial groups and Tennessee’s formula to measure the performance of Black, Hispanic and Native American (BHN) students by combining them into one group is troubling, at best. But what do I know, I’m just a blogger?

Don’t misunderstand me, I believe Tennessee is leading the nation in changing the education game and academic strategies such as personalizing instruction is evidence of the state’s standing. Further, I believe education commissioner Candice McQueen and her team have a heart for children. But I’ve been around long enough to know that everything that glitters ain’t gold when delivering for Black, Brown and poor children. We cannot continue to sacrifice our children to poor programs and weak accountability. So, while my hope in Tennessee’s plan to deliver for all kids may be cloaked in caution, it does exist.

Here’s an excerpt from Mesecar’s article on Tennessee’s plan on personalized learning:

The sad reality is that disproportionate numbers of poor and minority kids wind up in special education due to a lack of educational success. These students often slip through the cracks until their cumulative learning deficits become too large to ignore and their needs are finally addressed through individual attention mandated by federal disability law. Personalized learning holds real potential to turn this all-too-familiar pattern on its head by providing students immediate learning support when it is needed. Instead of waiting for students to fail before they get more time and attention, personalized learning is a just-in-time approach that can help teachers address academic deficiency before it snowballs into failure.




Back to School Nashville: Mia Howard and the Power of Problem Solving

Guest blogger Mia Howard, Founder and CEO of Intrepid College Prep schools.

When I was in first grade and attending NYC public schools in the early nineties, citywide assessments were commonplace. That spring, we took a math exam. I was too young to be nervous or to fully understand its importance – that came in later grades. But I vividly remember the last problem. Students were asked to find the area of a triangle. The shape consisted of unit squares so I counted the unit squares.

When I realized that some of the parts do not cover a complete square, I combined those to make whole squares and then counted them as well. Using that strategy, I derived the area of the triangle. I had no idea if I was right but I turned my exam in with minutes to spare. Not even 5 minutes later, my teacher called me to her desk. Incredulous, my teacher asked me how I solved the problem. Her tone told me that I got it right but it also told me she didn’t expect me to do so. Even at six years old, students can perceive when teachers have low expectations for them.

Tennessee and the Common Core now consider this type of problem par for the course in third grade. I mastered it two years earlier. Low and behold, I got one of the top scores in the city on that exam; my performance was commended with a ceremony, medal and royal blue letterman style jacket with ‘Math Champion’ emblazoned on the back. I still have it stored away in my closet somewhere.

Fast forward twenty-something years later. Six years ago, I had the opportunity to apply for the extremely competitive Building Excellent Schools Fellowship program.  As part of that process, which evaluates readiness to design, found and lead a high-performing school committed to closing the achievement gap, I was asked to analyze a sample school budget. There were terms I was unfamiliar with and the exercise required a variety of math skills that I had to figure out how to put together to evaluate the health of the school and make key decisions – all with no prior experience in school administration. I relied on critical-reasoning skills that I’ve been developing since elementary school, thanks to some great teachers, and demonstrated a solid understanding of charter school finance basics. Even better, I was granted the opportunity of a lifetime – a chance to build Intrepid College Prep, a successful middle and high school in Nashville.

What these two experiences demonstrate is that students and young people only realize their full potential when they are stretched academically and given the opportunity to engage in productive struggle while tackling problems that allow them to leverage what they do know to figure out something they do not know. Still, it took me a long time to apply that understanding to the way we teach mathematics at Intrepid College Prep.

We implemented the Tennessee standards, which borrow heavily from the Common Core, but until recently we focused too much on rote memorization and procedural skill and not enough on helping kids understand the concepts behind the problems, and how to apply their knowledge. In doing so, I confronted another iteration of the bias held by my first-grade teacher – lowering expectations for our students based on their academic challenges in math. It was evident when I walked into a classroom and saw students struggle to put their thinking on paper. It was evident when I listened to student discussions about math and noticed that their ideas were often incoherent. They struggled, in part, because we didn’t give them adequate time and support to engage in productive struggle.

However, one of the bright spots of our organization is knowing what we don’t know and asking for help. Earlier this year we reached out to The Achievement Network to help us diagnose the problem and design a plan of attack. After months of observation and planning, we are excited to shift our approach to teaching in three different ways starting this fall that we believe will increase math knowledge, understanding and performance.

What We’re Changing

  • Study the major work in every grade to understand the demands and aspects of rigor called for by the standards.  Use the language of the standards to implement specific and varied instructional practices based on each aspect of rigor – conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application.


  • Pose high-quality questions and problems to engage students in meaningful work and discussion and deliberately check for understanding.


  • Shift teacher development from creating materials to internalizing content.

Our Key Investments

We invested in leadership and teacher coaching to support these priorities. We also decided to fully adopt the Eureka Math curriculum from UnboundEd, which teaches students and teachers how to excel in math using a variety of aligned instructional practices while increasing student ownership of each lesson. With support from professors at The Wharton School, we have also designed a financial literacy curriculum that has an interdisciplinary focus on using the humanities and conceptual understanding of math to create social entrepreneurs. We will give our students exposure to real world problem solving about issues that are meaningful to them. Students will use critical reasoning skills and their understanding of literacy, the social sciences, and mathematics to design solutions to pressing social issues.

Our Key People

Our teachers will bring these shifts to life but these instructional shifts also live and breathe across our organization. This summer we shared these instructional priorities with our network team and our campus leaders and together we examined what effective teacher and student practices must be evident to signal that the shifts are increasing student achievement qualitatively and quantitatively. We expect every leader, including members of our operations team, to be able to describe these shifts and gather evidence of success when they are in classrooms.

Most importantly, we restructured principal responsibilities to make sure that our principals are equipped with the resources and skills to support these shifts in classrooms every day. We’ve designed the principal role around their ability to spend 50% time in classrooms and we’ve added Operations Associates to each campus to provide more administrative support that will protect that dedicated instructional time. We each have a unique role to play in supporting instruction. As adults, the importance of teamwork to solve problems is clear. Our schools bear the responsibility of giving students similar experiences inside and outside the classroom.

Our Key Takeaways

For any teachers or leaders struggling to make the more rigorous math standards come alive in the classroom, know that you are not alone.  On those days when math is messy and you feel tempted to rein it in and go back to teacher-controlled classrooms, lean in even more. When parents complain that we’re teaching math the “wrong” way, persevere. Reach out to schools and leaders that are data-proven and observe their math classrooms. Study the teacher actions pre-, during and post-lesson to understand how teachers internalize math content and develop confidence in the various ways to solve problems while addressing student misconceptions. Rise to rigor. A world where our students are the future problem-solvers depends on it.


These Lucky Little Riders Get Personalized Handmade Toys from Their School Bus Driver

This yarn lover is in love with the story about a Wisconsin school bus driver who crochets stuffed dolls for her students. Let me clarify, every student on her bus gets a personalized, handmade toy courtesy of their bus driver, Ms. Trudy Serres.

As someone who crochets and knits (not well, but my heart is in the right place), I can appreciate the time and dedication Ms. Serres commits to each project, interlacing love throughout each stitch – hundreds of stitches for each toy. Oh yeah, let’s not forget, yarn is not free!

The greatest story within the story is Ms. Serres’ commitment to her role in the lives of children. Understanding that the school day starts when students step onto her bus and that she is as integral to students’ education as anyone in the school building.

“My elementary students see me crochet and they thought they could challenge me,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “It all started with a taco, and it ended up being 34 items.”

Yarn on, girl!

Check out the full story and hear from Ms. Serres here.

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Ed Reform and Its “Polite” Segregationist Agenda Take the Stage at NAACP Convention

It’s Saturday, July 22, 2017 and the 108th Convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in session. At the drop of the opening gavel members of the NAACP will begin the business of deliberating and voting on the issues meant to further the progress of Black people in America.

Screenshot 2017-07-22 at 7.40.32 AMThroughout the next five days nearly 80 celebrities, members of Congress, and more political, religious and community leaders will take the convention stage and speak on any number of issues that disproportionately affect the Black community. The membership will hear from the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson — just to name a few.


Even more interesting than the star-studded plenary is the days leading up to the convention. The interwebs have seen a series of shots fired on the education battlefield. You already know the century-old organization dedicated to advancing “colored people” will – once again – take a stand in opposition to charter schools. I’ve written extensively on the moratorium to halt the proliferation of charters around the country and it never not shocks my system when I think about how anti-advancement of Black people this resolution is!

In preparation of the defense of the moratorium (because they already know it will be affirmed), the NAACP landed some surprise punches through its powerful partners. Known NAACP partner Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called charter schools and vouchers “slightly more polite cousins to segregation.” But before the ed reform community was called semi-segregationists, they were called outright racists by Black America’s best friend.

I understand the teacher’s union relentless pursuit to protect its bottom line and, quite frankly, I’m sure the loss of union dues will make you say things like that, but the R-E-V-E-R-E-N-D?


There are a number of blogs, commentary, and news stories devoted to the NAACP’s stance on charters and I’ve certainly not been shy about my thoughts on the subject. I have no expectation that the NAACP will turnaround their stance on charter schools. That they will actually look at the data that represents millions of families that CHOOSE to be in these schools. The data that shows Black and Brown children knocking it out of the park. The data that shows these schools are providing a high quality choice in neighborhoods where there are none. How can anyone equipped with a heart and brain believe a moratorium on these schools is advancing a people? Unless…

The only thing can be is an inherent determination that the people who were formerly in slavery, regardless of anything else, shall be kept as near that stage as is possible…  – Thurgood Marshall

Check out these other voices:

Parents, Educators and Community Members Speak Out Against the NAACP’s Charter Moratorium by Michael Vaughn

A History Lesson For Randi on Black Education in America by Dirk Tillotson


Federal Government Says Child Poverty Rate is Down in Nashville, Withholds Millions from Schools

More on the continuing saga of Taking from the Poor…

Last week I wrote about Tennessee’s largest counties losing federal funding due to the government’s (mis)calculations identifying poverty decreases within the geographic boundaries of our largest school districts. Yes, you read that right – decreasing poverty in urban schools districts. Shelby County, Tennessee’s largest school district, will suffer a $5 million deficit in the coming school year and it seems that the funding is being redirected to the smaller, wealthier districts. 


In Nashville, the district has been on the budgeting battlefield preparing for the $4 million kick in the gut. As much as the deficit itself is a hard pill to swallow, the rationale behind the funding loss betrays logic.

The Metro Schools’ Federal Programs department has this to say:

“The poverty rate that drives our federal education budgets (such as Title I) are determined by the poverty rate for children 5-17 in Davidson County reported by the US Census.  To allocate funds to the State of TN and each of its districts for next fiscal year, the USED will use the US Census child poverty rate from 2015.  Our current Title I budget was based on the rate of 2014.  As determined by the US Census, Davidson County’s child poverty rate went down 13.18% in one year from their reported rate in 2014 to the 2015 rate.

In comparison, the national child poverty rate went down only 4.40%.”

The Heck You Say

Anyone living in Nashville for six minutes can see our growing homelessness (6th in the nation) and housing epidemic and say with total confidence that the federal government is just plain wrong.

As a matter of fact, just three months ago I sat in a day-long community needs presentation proving Nashville’s growing needs for the city’s most vulnerable (see Nashville’s Prosperity Rests on Backs of Unhoused, Over-Jailed, and Undereducated). Annually, the city’s social services department releases a community needs evaluation, collecting a year’s worth of service delivery data from governmental agencies and nonprofits. The nearly three-hundred-page tome doubles as an indictment on the city’s priorities and roadmap to absolution. Ultimately, it serves as proof of the colossal hole between what is reported and reality. 

What Could a $4 Million Loss Mean for Students?

While scrolling through Facebook last week, I came across a post from the principal of Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 10.16.52 AMmy old high school. Dr. Sue Kessler, principal of Hunters Lane High School (go Warriors!), posted a message to parents and students reminding them that the Warrior Bookstore is stocked and ready — relieving their minds of any worry of being ill-prepared for the first day of school. Just writing it gives me chills.

How on earth is Dr. Kessler able to provide free school supplies to every Hunters Lane student?

“We are in year 9 of this practice. Our marketing 1 students run the bookstore as an “inventory” exercise. All students can get what they need during lunch when the bookstore is open. It’s a win-win that ensure everyone has what they need, and requires that students take responsibility for retrieving the supplies they need when they need them. So, if geography teacher says you need colored pencils for next class the student knows to pick them up rather than ask parents to get them. For kids who come from families without resources for school supplies it’s a great equalizer. Free for all Warriors, no judgement and proof of “need” required. We use Title 1 funds to stock the bookstore and for 1600 kids only costs about $8000 to ensure everyone has access to the school supplies they need.”

Yes, Title 1 funds.

The government designates these funds to schools with high numbers of students living in low-income situations. Students with limited means struggle to get even the most basic of supplies and, thankfully, we have leaders like Dr. Kessler who identify student need and creatively make the funding work for every student. I believe she will fight to continue the underappreciated service of stockpiling the school bookstore and offering supplies to all students free of charge. More chills.

And it appears Metro Schools is working to protect students from the nonsensical funding shortfall. I pray they are successful.