Reflecting on the Year’s Education Scene and Honoring Nashville’s #EdChamps2017

Volume and Light is dedicated to amplifying and illuminating education issues and stories traditionally unavailable to readers. The mission is to offer a point-of-view of education utilizing my lens as a former public school district staffer, parent, and student. This blog seeks to inform families of the good, bad, and wrong, and because of the toxic environment for parent choice, 2017 saw dozens of posts defending parents of color in charter schools.

Taking on the role of defender means staying in constant battle-mode and it is exhausting! And in September of this year, I hit a wall. The events at Charlottesville from a month prior still weighed heavily on me, I learned the only parent organization independent of the school district was losing its funding, and more than one thousand charter school parents signed a petition demanding a little respect only to be greatly disrespected – again.

I was done.

To heal, I cut my blogging obligations down to a mere one-third of the content normally produced and began to slowly recuperate from the “crash”. Then TNReady scores. In October, the Tennessee Department of Education finally released the scores from the controversial standardized test administered six months prior. I spent the entire month with the data. I will never be able to un-know that in 2017, 86 percent of 3rd through 8th graders in low-income households were not on track to read at grade level. Eighty-six percent. Enter #FliptheScript, my effort to raise awareness about the literacy crisis facing our children. More to come in 2018.

EdChamps2017

I know I’ve devoted a lot of space to the bad and wrong, but I’ve also tried to recognize the good, to honor the real education MVP’s. While not every unsung champion made it to the blog, I think now is as good a time as any to recognize a few good women and men who have done and are doing the damn thing.

So here’s to Nashville’s #EdChamps2017 (another hashtag to save the world) who have served in the best interest of children, dared to think outside the box, and modeled quiet leadership and courage.

 

Dr. JoAnn Brannon, Christiane Buggs, Dr. Sharon Gentry, Mary Pierce

I’ve been around school board politics for a couple of decades – as an insider and disinterested observer – and the proposal to close Smithson Craighead Academy, Nashville’s first charter school, was a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation. There would be no winners post-vote, the children lose whether or not the school’s charter was revoked and anyone in support of revocation gets the cold shoulder.

The school founded and shepherded by Sister Sandra Smithson is struggling academically and financially and has for some time now. The recommendation to revoke the charter was submitted after the director placed the school on probation in April 2017 citing serious financial and academic deficiencies.

So in November, the school board was faced with the nearly impossible task of neutralizing Sister Sandra’s legacy and love for her students in order to do the job they were elected to do– to objectively consider the merits of the recommendation as presented by the director of schools. Honoring the director’s recommendation meant closing Nashville’s first charter school. Rejecting the recommendation meant keeping open a school with longstanding dismal performance outcomes, unpaid vendors, and dwindling coffers.

“We have policies so we don’t make emotional decisions.” – Dr. Gentry

The brave group of four, faced with the hardest part of the job of a school board member, voted to forever close the doors to the city’s first charter school – led by a nun.

Though the school’s charter was renewed, these #EdChamps2017 served well their official capacity by considering the director’s recommendations and honored their moral obligation by responding as if their own children’s education was at stake.

 

ONE-THOUSAND TWELVE CHARTER SCHOOL PARENTS

School board work is a tough gig and the story above is a perfect example of its challenges. However, there is no excuse for mistreatment of a group of people and charter schools parents have been targeted for a few years now. And they are simply saying no more.

In September charter school parents wrote and signed their own resolution:

Some of us signed a letter last spring asking for the public charter-focused attacks from some of your members to stop and for you, our elected school board, to come together and focus on making all Nashville schools excellent.

Since that time we, along with many of our fellow public charter school parents, have been dismayed to see that on June 27, 2017, you were unable (or unwilling) to pass a resolution committing to treat us, our children and our public schools with the same respect as the rest of Nashville’s schools.

These parents, grandparents, and guardians deserve the #EdChamp2017 honors for courage. Signing their name to a public document of demands directed to a few school board members who work to make their lives miserable is pretty badass.

Jarred Amato

I can’t write enough about Project LIT (libraries in the) Community, the reading initiative launched by Maplewood High School English teacher Jarred Amato. I may have obsessed with this initiative a little and between this blog and fellow Nashville education blogger Thomas Weber, we’ve got Amato more than covered. In our defense, how can you not adore the idea of equipping book deserts with books covering topics and characters relevant to the students who actually live in these areas? GENIUS! And selfless.

According to Mr. Amato, “our mission is to inspire all Nashville children to become lifelong readers by making books more accessible and creating excitement about reading.”

If inspiring all of Nashville’s children was the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the Community sorely underestimated their product. Project LIT is a now full-fledged movement with a steady flow of schools around the city and across the country joining in on the fun. As of this writing, Knoxville announced their participation.

Meanwhile, the unassuming, take-no-crap, grant-writing, book-shelving, Penguin Random House Teacher of the Year continues to teach, conducts weekly Twitter chats, and is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to promote reading and relevant content.

Jarred Amato deserves #EdChamp2017 honors for going beyond the call of duty and providing out-of-the-box services to students.

Singing Praises to the Unsung

There are education champions at every school and within every community. It is our responsibility to recognize unsung advocates like Thomas Weber, blogger at Dad Gone Wild, who has been a consistent voice for traditional schools and fierce supporter of teachers. The treasure trove of churches who partner with schools offering space for programs and events, tutoring, supplies, food, and volunteers. The silent resisters who by virtue of the school they’ve chosen send a powerful message. The vocal few with whom I may disagree but respectfully acknowledge the source fueling the stance.

May 2018 be the year for endless unpopular, uncomfortable, and uncompromising decisions and movements that seek to change the trajectories of thousands of marginalized children in our city. Happy New Year!

Enjoy more 2017 EdChamp behavior…

Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition – Spearheaded by Conexion Americas and has the TNDOE’s ear and respect. The coalition is growing into an education policy and advocacy powerhouse focusing on equity with an eye on students of color.

Nashville Charter School Leaders join other leaders across the country to fight against their own interests. March 2017

“But we cannot support the President’s budget as currently proposed and we are determined to do everything in our power to work with Congress and the Administration to protect the programs that are essential to the broader needs of our students, families, and communities.”

Nashville Teacher Residency – Teacher prep program that seeks to satisfy the need for teachers of color. May 2017

The Passage – Two Chattanooga teachers hop on a bus and meet their students’ educational needs wherever they are! June 2017

Cicely Woodard – Tennessee’s 2017-18 Teacher of The Year is a Metro Nashville Public School teacher and we are proud. September 2017


If you’ve made it to the bottom of this post – thank you. A heartfelt thank you to those who have lifted me by supporting this blog, by supporting me. Your advice, shares, RT’s, texts, calls, and coffees have carried me all year long. I’m eternally gratefully. 

2018 is looking up — so many BOSS plans in the hopper! Stay tuned and, as always, Stay Woke.

2018 School Board Race: Using Battle Scars to Chart the Path to Victory for Every Public School Student

Remember how vulnerable and scared you felt watching the nuclear war tough talks between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea? It was reminiscent of playground bullies battling to control all areas in and around the monkey bars and seesaw while the other children stand on the sidelines too fearful to play until one of the bullies backs down or gets the crap beat out of him.  

From the White House to city government, we are vulnerable to the decisions, (good, bad, and evil) made by our elected officials. This is why your vote matters.

2018 School Board Race

In one year, Nashville will be preparing to swear in newly elected members of the school board. If history serves as a guide, the newly elected and re-elected members will be exhausted and bloodied, but full of false pride that their “side” won. (what about the kids, though?)

Look, we have an opportunity to learn from the political slugfest that was the 2016 Nashville school board race. Over the next four weeks, Volume and Light will go on a journey in hopes of offering a path to victory for those standing on the sidelines.

Because we must do it differently this time. Many charter schools parents feel vulnerable to the vicious attacks on their children’s schools. Traditional public school parents believe too much attention is lavished upon such a small percentage of the total school population. They are right. 

We must never forget how it makes us feel to watch our leaders fight for control of our future without our permission or best interest.

The four-part series will begin with a look back at the School Board Battle of 2016 with a blog I wrote just after the election, one that I have not been able to revisit. It was that bad.

Next week we will look at the districts up for grabs.


The Friendliest City in America Got Downright Mean in Its School Board Elections This Summeroriginally posted on Education Post August 23, 2016

Nashville. The city of It. This summer Nashville overflowed with It, as we celebrated the arrival of wine in grocery stores, the largest firework display in America, and a never-ending stream of music, which, like the Cumberland River, courses through our hometown. Oh, yeah, we’re friendly as all get-out, too. Like, the friendliest.

A visitor might hardly believe there are deep civic divides in such a shining city. But this summer we saw painful polarization in our education community. If we don’t find a way to tamp down the vitriol of this summer’s school board elections, it will tarnish It City. Worse, we will slide farther from our goal of better educating our young people.

WHEN THE FRIENDLIEST CITY GETS MEAN

Summer got off to a collaborative start, when the school board, mayor and a posse of politically plugged-in Nashvillians appointed Dr. Shawn Joseph, 41, director of schools, the first African American to hold the position in Nashville.

Leaving Maryland’s affluent Prince George’s County to tackle Metro’s socio-economically diverse system, which is plagued more by a fractious school board than by actual district performance, Joseph wisely negotiated a clause in his contract to set the tone for communication going forward:

…the Board, individually and collectively, shall promptly refer to the Director, orally or in writing, for his study and recommendation any and all criticisms, complaints, suggestions, communications or other comments regarding the Director’s performance of his duties of the operation of the MNPS.

In other words, you got a problem, you bring it to me. The end.

But what looked like the beginning of our happily-ever-after came to a screeching halt as school board races revved up and Nashville, the friendliest town in America, got downright mean.

The issue? Charter schools. I won’t bore you with the sordid details, and, honestly, I’m not confident in my ability to provide an unbiased account due to my participation in some of the campaigns. However, there is no shortage of reporting on this subject in local and national media.

It was this podcast by national education blogger Citizen Stewart and national education writer Peter Cook, whose granular color commentary of our election forced me to look at our dysfunction from an outsider’s perspective. That’s when I realized that Nashville’s It-ness is like a beautifully manicured lawn. It tells only part of the story, while we work like hell to keep our guests from seeing our dirt.

THE DIRTIEST PART OF THE ELECTION

Depending on which side of the charter argument you embrace, the dirt of this election cycle was either loads of “outside” money dumped into school board races or middle-class leaders working to kill educational opportunity known to benefit Black and poor children.

When the votes were cast and the slate of charter-friendly candidates was vanquished, the refrain “dark money loses and public schools win” littered my social media timelines. The language implied that the thousands of students in Nashville’s charter schools were not part of our public school community.

What does that headline say to the parents of students in charter schools? It says their voices and choices don’t matter.

In an election cycle that was infamously dirty, that message may be the dirtiest part of all.

I’M MORE CERTAIN THAN EVER THAT THE VOICES OF CHOICE ARE MISSING FROM THE CONVERSATION.

After a long hot summer knocking on doors, making hundreds of phone calls, and speaking with parents in schools of all stripes, I’m more certain than ever that the voices of choice are missing from the conversation. If we are to make lasting and profound change in our schools—to meet the needs of all families—we must hear all their voices.

So we must ask what accounts for the silence. Is it because we’re not inviting these voices into the conversation? Is it because we are drowning out voices we don’t agree with? Is it because we are not welcoming enough? Is it because we are making half-hearted attempts to engage in meaningful ways? Or is it—gasp—because we really don’t believe these voices are valuable to the discussion?

Until we answer these questions, battle lines will remain in place and our children will lose.

PARENT VOICE MATTERS

To ensure success, we must bring all parents from the margin into the fold. We must believe in our hearts that their voices and experience matter.

A parent armed with information is an empowered parent, a ready-made partner in an educational process that leads to the success of students and schools. Furthermore, parents should absolutely seek out learning centers that best fit their children’s needs, and they should be celebrated for their efforts rather than criticized for their choice.

Metro Schools is rich with options, and parents understand the importance of finding the right fit with a healthy acceptance of charters’ role in this narrative.

At Metro Schools, there is a school for EVERY family in our district, no matter what children want to learn, how they want to learn, where they want to learn or when. There is a choice for everyone, and with one application, the vast array of school choices are at your fingertips.

From this point forward, I pledge to do my part. Gone are the days of sitting on the sideline complaining while participating in meaningless Twitter battles that serve to boost egos rather than student achievement.

So, I’m looking for a few good voices. Voices of choice who will have the courage to promote a parent’s right to choose, encourage others to exercise this right, and serve as a support system.

If we truly believe in public schools, then we believe in the role parents play—no matter their choice.

 

10,000+ Nashville Charter School Families Get Official Eviction Notice

This is what happens when politics outranks people.

Screenshot 2017-06-30 at 9.25.37 AM

A resolution introduced by board member Mary Pierce enforcing the board’s role in advocating for every student (and family) failed in dramatic form this week. The breakdown of the vote on the measure to support ALL families was, unfortunately, not surprising — 4 voting yes, 3 abstaining, 1 refused to vote and 1 absent. But what shocks the system is the message it sends to the families on the other end of the failed motion. A message best explained in a Cee-Lo Green song “although there’s a pain in my chest, I still wish you the best with a F— you.”

There’s not much to add to this story besides petty commentary and that, quite frankly, does nothing for the parents now officially alienated from the school district. However, I do feel the need to amplify one tiny part of the school board’s own policy mandating the elected body to “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.” The failed motion means only one thing for these families, the school board has abdicated its responsibility to serve charter school children and families. Holla!

So, I urge parents to reach out to board members. Express appreciation to the members voting on your behalf and to those who didn’t vote for you respectfully remind them that you’re still part of the family. Like it or not.

“The resolution is not about whether or not our board philosophically supports charter schools — individual members have made positions clear on the board floor and on social media,” Pierce said. “Rather, this is about our service as board members as advocates for the entire district and all the students it serves.”

Please read every word of this resolution.

A resolution declaring the Board of Education’s intent to reaffirm our commitment to our Governing Policy Three: Board Job Description with a specific focus on number Eight: Advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves.

WHEREAS, Metro Nashville Public Schools currently serve students in all of the following: traditional zoned district schools for students in grades K-12, open enrollment district schools, pre-kindergarten programs, magnet schools, non-traditional academies, alternative schools, homeschool programs and public charter schools; and

WHEREAS, MNPS educates nearly 88,000 students who come from diverse cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, many with diverse learning styles*; and

WHEREAS, MNPS public charter schools, authorized by the MNPS Board of Education, serve almost 10,000 students; and

WHEREAS, the cultural and socio-economic diversity within MNPS public charter schools closely reflects that of the entire district**; and

WHEREAS, the Metropolitan Nashville Davidson County Board of Public Education is committed to providing every student a high-quality education that promotes social and emotional learning and strives for increasing academic achievement; and

WHEREAS these core beliefs are reiterated in the commitment in Governing Policy Three that this Board will “advocate for the organization and all of the students it serves;” and

WHEREAS, the Board of Education has been addressed on numerous occasions by parents and others with children enrolled in one of our 28 MNPS Board approved charter schools by way of letters and public comments that they do not feel supported by the totality of the board; and

WHEREAS, these same parents have asked that the Board of Education treat them and their schools with the same courtesy and respect extended to parents and educators in zoned schools, magnet schools, and all other types of schools authorized by the Board of Education; and

WHEREAS, this board has consistently adopted standards that promote collaboration, including the first Annenberg Standard, which states that “Traditional district and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children”; and

WHEREAS, we recognize that in every type of school our organization offers or authorizes, there will be concerns that should be addressed by the Director of Schools and district staff, and RS-2017-3

WHEREAS, at times, advocacy for students and families with concerns might appear to conflict with advocacy for MNPS, it is possible to do so without disparaging the schools, the employees or MNPS, and

WHEREAS, all of our students, and their families, regardless of the schools they attend, deserve to be treated in a respectful, inclusive manner;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, the Metro Nashville Board of Public Education:

  1. Recognizes that our MNPS public charter schools are part of the organization of MNPS and serve the same diverse populations as our other MNPS schools; and
  2. Commits to ensuring its schools remain safe and welcoming places for all students and their families regardless of the type of school they attend; and
  3. Commits to treating students, parents, staff and leaders of MNPS public charter schools with the same respect and civility extended to those in district run schools; and
  4. Commits to handling concerns, issues and sensitive information reported by families or staff from a district charter school in the same discreet, consistent and professional manner as those brought by families or staff from a district-run school; and
  5. Commits to high standards of personal accountability when giving public statements (social media posts, opinion editorials, statements on the board floor, etc.) to ensure the accuracy of information to the best of one’s ability; and
  6. Commits to leading as a productive, student-centered board focused on making every MNPS school excellent.

Adopted this 13th day of June 2017.

(NOT ADOPTED)

School Board Meeting Will Go Deep Into the Night Thanks to Parents, West Nashville Residents 

The first School Board meeting of 2017 is scheduled to end at 8pm, but with 72 people signed up to petition the Board – well, you just never know how these things will end!

By the looks of it, most are signed up to speak about the highly sought after suburban high school west of Nashville to replace the current school that includes a segment of North Nashville (primarily black students). 

Also on the agenda are Nashville Rise parents continuing their campaign for quality choices. Yes! 

The final ten speakers will be petitioning on behalf of LEAD Academy charter renewal. Making an offensive play in this situation is the best defense!

Oh, oh, oh! The Director’s Evaluation committee meets today. I mentioned this back in December. This, my friends, is where the rubber meets the road. Stay tuned.

#NashvilleEduStory Feat. 2016 and 7 of Its Best (whether I like the story or not)

The days that remain in 2016 are so few they can be best expressed in hours. While never really buying into the whole “new year, new you” craze, within the next 36 hours I’ll be owning it!

Then there’s the whole personifying of 2016 as the grim reaper (which is the personification of death?). Yes, I agree that in 2016 too many of the Creator’s best have left us, some of his most questionable remain, and more than usual have been dealt soul-crushing blows. Still, I maintain that while it’s human to try to make sense of it all, 2016 is not the bad guy here. (But Carrie AND Debbie, really?)

Toward that end, there are people and actions in 2016, locally and nationally, that deserve as much attention as the losses. Even as I’ve spent the last six months bellyaching about the education scene in Nashville, I love my city and the characters within it, good and bad, agree or not. So, I’m offering my personal list of 2016’s 7 best stories:

7. Unions and other anti-choice proponents sweep school board races. This.

Most of the union-supported school board candidates, all of whom where incumbents, won their races to the recurring theme ‘pro-public schools, anti-privatization’. Furthermore, infusing fear of “dark money” while, in turn, hiring a private eye to stalk Stand for Children’s Daniel O’Donnell (even going into his dating profile!!!) proved to be the winning strategy. IT WAS UGLY.

Our education community is still on the mend, but as long as the school board continues to propose anti-choice resolutions and policies, we will never completely heal.

NOTE: The story behind the title created much consternation within yours truly. Actually, it was the impetus for the story The Friendliest City in America Got Downright Mean In Its School Board Elections This Summer leading to the nonstop education blogging you enjoy today. Selected as one of the best story lines of 2016 because the school board election illuminated what was missing – the voices of parents of color.

Daniel O’Donnell, Nashville Director Stand for Children

6. Daniel O’Donnell – I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Nashville director of Stand for Children on a couple of occasions. The bespectacled young man struck me as passionate, introverted, and wildly intelligent. So watching the Nashville Witch Trials play out for weeks with Daniel as the object was depressing and I’m still trying to find him so that I can give him a mama-hug.

The opposition blasted Stand for Children for bold campaign donations, thereby making O’Donnell the face of “dark money” and illegal campaign activity.  Mr. O’Donnell was thrown into the fire and tossed around in it, but came out like a shiny, new penny! Excited to see his next move.

Nashville group that joined The Memphis Lift in Cincinnati

5. The Memphis Lift and Sarah A. Carpenter– Maybe this isn’t totally a Nashville story, but it has some Music City flavor.

In October, several Nashville parents accompanied Memphis parents to Cincinnati, OH protest the national NAACP’s ratification of the resolution to place a moratorium on charter schools throughout the United States. Though serving in an official capacity, I couldn’t avoid being drawn into the passion and determination of parents and grandparents fighting for the nation’s children.

Sarah A. Carpenter, director The Memphis Lift
The story has since spread like wildfire (what’s with all the fire references?) and The Memphis Lift’s director, Sarah A. Carpenter, has become a celebrity in her own right. This grandmother of 14 is quick to say “it’s not about your child, it’s about ALL of the children!” with as much sternness and love any one person can muster. It is, indeed, a blessing to the Memphis community that this fearless leader invests in future generations by educating and training today’s parents. Onward, Sarah.
Amy Frogge, District 9 School Board Member
4. Amy Frogge, School Board Member – This woman is a force. And flanked by a force, to boot!
First, I must acknowledge my personal admiration for Amy. Our relationship started out as a working one and since my leaving Metro Schools, it continues as one of mutual respect (I think). Because while our platforms on education are as different as our race and sometimes as distant as her west of Nashville suburb from my east of Nashville suburb, we both have hearts for children (and animals).

I have sort of tripped into the ed reform world where Amy is not a friend and a world about which she speaks and writes with severity. Still, she stands for something greater than herself and fights fiercely for it, hence, Amy’s Army, the scores of supporters who helped her take the school board race.

Our passions will, no doubt, continue to collide, but, I got nothing but love and respect for the wife, mother of two, and ardent animal lover. Soldier on!

Nashville Rise Parents Working an Event

3. Nashville Rise – Under the umbrella of Project Renaissance, this organization seeks to “inform, empower, and engage” Nashville parents.

This past summer the parents of Nashville Rise hosted a forum for all school board candidates which ultimately turned into a social media circus. Three of the school board candidates, also sitting board members, rallied against the forum and refused to participate. Despite the spite, the parent-organized/hosted forum was a huge success taking its rightful place in the education landscape. 

And just this month Nashville Rise parents made another splash onto the scene by using their most powerful weapon in support of quality choices by speaking against the school board’s proposed resolution to stop charter growth. 

I’m thrilled about NR’s service to MNPS families and fully expect increased participation with new director Neonta Williams at the helm!


2a. Sharon Gentry, Anna Shepherd, JoAnn Brannon, Jill Speering, Elissa Kim, Tyese Hunter, Will Pinkston, Mary Pierce, Amy Frogge – The Nashville School Board that voted unanimously to hire director of schools Dr. Shawn Joseph.

After a failed attempt the year prior, the embattled school board retreated and returned unified and better than prepared to hire a director. So, in May 2016 an offer was made and accepted.


2b. Anna Shepherd, Jill Speering, Sharon Gentry, JoAnn Brannon, Christiane Buggs, Tyese Hunter, Will Pinkston, Mary Pierce, Amy Frogge – The Nashville School Board that stood by their hire in the face of harsh criticism and unrelenting media scrutiny after being on the job for less than three months. 

1. Dr. Shawn Joseph – Of course! 

The former Prince George’s County standout made his way down south with his trusted teammates in tow. Jumping in long before his scheduled first day, the soft-spoken director has traipsed across all 525 square miles in less than six months meeting with thousands of staffers and parents. 

Impressively, in a span of less than 3 months, the director hosted two sets of meetings around the district specifically for parents. The director and his leadership team then collected, compiled, and reported out data from those meetings with plans to analyze and use to inform strategy. 

Need I point that during the execution of this work the director was under fire? 

Dr. Shawn Joseph is my top 2016 #NashvilleEduStory!

May your new year exceed your expectations. Cheers! 

Yes, You Should Be Afraid to Run for Nashville School Board. But You Should Do It Anyway!

Don’t get me wrong, I am good friends with most of the school board members. I do believe most of them are good people who really do love the babies.

Maybe it’s too early for board members whose terms are up in 2018 to decide whether they will run again. But it’s a great time for prospects to scavenge the landscape.

And yes, I mean scavenge, because the 2016 board race back in August didn’t actually end until this week. And it left a path of scorched earth and burned spirits.

Should I Be Scared?

I strongly encourage you to think about running for school board. (I might even start a sign-up sheet right here on the blog!) But…heed my warning.

To recap: A group of “concerned citizens” (Zack Barnes says it best here) filed illegal campaigning charges against Stand for Children, its Nashville director Daniel O’Donnell, and school board candidates Miranda Christy, Thom Druffel, Jackson Miller and Jane Meneely. After four months, the post-election nightmare finally ended, but not without sending a strong cautionary message (See Miranda’s story) to anyone who hopes to bring new ideas and a focus on children to the Nashville school board.

And hey, this could be you!

I know, I’m a terrible saleslady—what with telling the brutal truth and all. But here’s the thing: nearly 90,000 children need adults with the capability to make decisions that positively affect the trajectories of their lives. We need some bold community members to come stick up for the children—not the adults or the institutions or the entrenched system.

So, if this is you, be afraid. Be very afraid.

And do it anyway.

Dear Nashville School Board: A Moratorium on Charters is Unnecessary and Harmful to Families

The election. The cast of characters tapped to lead our nation. The soul-crushing tragedy in Chattanooga.  

There is no shortage of bad things to distract us from the business at hand, but I’d like to take this opportunity to guide us back to our reality within Nashville’s education landscape. 

Our school board will be considering a resolution to place a moratorium on Nashville charter schools following in the misguided footsteps of the NAACP. 

Prior to the NAACP’s October 15 vote on the moratorium, I penned a letter to my local NAACP branch explaining why the moratorium is unnecessary in Nashville. 

The contents of the letter is still applicable, but I’m re-routing from the NAACP to the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education.

“Dear NAACP-Nashville:
The Nashville chapter of the NAACP has always positioned itself on the right side of history through its efforts to uphold its mission to advance African Americans. Today, the local chapter is confronted with another opportunity to honor its legacy. Nashville’s public school children and parents need you on their side; which, arguably, is always the right side.

Charter School Moratorium

The National NAACP will be voting later this fall on a referendum to call a moratorium on the creation of charter schools across the country. The strongly-worded resolution roots its rationale in, among other things, charters’ targeting of poor and communities of color, differential enrollment practices, and increasing segregation.

After listing a litany of issues, the document promises to uphold the NAACP’s 2014 resolution opposing the privatizing of public schools. The subsequent superfluous statements threaten to oppose federal legislation that seek to divert public funds for private entities and support funding that “would strengthen local governance and transparency of charter schools.” While the grievances have merit, under no circumstances do they represent what is happening in Nashville.

We’re Good, Thanks

Since the very beginning, Metro Schools has assembled groups of smart, capable professionals to assess charter applications. Then, in response to the pressing need for increased oversight and administrative demands, Metro Schools created an office of Charter Schools. The office leadership would go on to receive national recognition for its effectiveness.
For these reasons and others, Metro Schools is not a district with a charter problem. In fact, for more than a decade charters have provided a great assist to the district. Numbers provide a more inspiring narrative:

Authorization and accountability: From 2003 to 2016, MNPS has opened approximately 33 charter schools (an average of 2.2 school starts per year) and closed four.
Academic Success: According to the district’s academic performance framework, in 2015, 8 of the 15 highest performing K-8 schools were charters (denoted by the highest designation “excelling”)

Further, using the same tool, all but one charter school entered the 2016 school year in good standing.

Charter schools students make-up: 66% black, 22% Hispanic, 11% white, 86% Economically Disadvantaged; 11% ELL, 13% Students with Disabilities

This is Nashville’s story, and, for thousands of charter school families, it’s a good one.

Go to the Voices

Nashville parents are blessed with a bounty of solid choices and Metro Schools does a great job marketing its menu of school options. Additionally, charter schools’ face-to-face marketing of beliefs and successes, though unpopular amongst traditional education types, is a proven winner with parents. To this end, parents are making choices and it is incumbent on the city’s leaders to extract the narrative from these decisions.
So my ask is quite simple: As you consider the resolution to support a moratorium on the proliferation of charters, please keep in mind that Nashville is vastly different from other cities and, more importantly, fold into your decision voices of choice.

I implore you to please go to parents, take in their stories, and make the decision accordingly. Their side is the right side.

Thank you for your service to the Nashville community. Much respect.”
Thank you.