Thursday, October 12, 2006

Innovation & reform (again) and (more) grant money

This press release from Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Pedro Garcia (you'll remember that his contract is up for renewal).

Today, I am creating an Office of Reform and Innovation.

This office will be charged with the development of strategies and new programs that will result in improved graduation rates, improved attendance and discipline, increased academic achievement, and reductions in the achievement gap between subgroups of students.

The initial focus will be on high school and middle school programmatic needs for reaching these results. This department will have broad authority to work across the existing organization to secure resources and to develop action plans for implementation in our schools across the district.

Specific duties during the first year include:

  1. Overseeing the Small Learning Communities Grant recently awarded by the United States Department of Education
  2. Planning and implementing a Big Picture School in Nashville for 2007-2008
  3. Developing and implementing other optional schools that will serve to meet the needs of the community and improve graduation rates
  4. Facilitating and participating in discussions in the Nashville community around strategic plan development
  5. Developing and implementing plans for the creation of career academies and other small learning communities in our comprehensive high schools
  6. Working with Alignment Nashville on these new programs and aligning our goals with the work of the non-profit agencies in Nashville
  7. Developing relationships with businesses in Nashville in support of innovative new programs in our schools
  8. Discussing with labor organizations any implications of innovative programs that are being explored and removing any barriers to progress early in the planning process
  9. Working with community groups at-large and exploring new ways that the community and the district can work together in support of district programs in our schools
  10. Working with identified resources to explore and apply for alternative funding sources for new and innovative programs in our schools
  11. Advocating, in cooperation with the Board and other school officials, for changes in state education laws that will facilitate the implementation of new innovations in our schools
  12. Developing specific change management strategies that proactively define steps the district needs to take for new programs to be successfully integrated in our schools

Mr. James Briggs will serve as the director of this office. As the Director of the Reform and Innovation Office, Mr. Briggs will be the primary contact with Alignment Nashville and work across all of the areas above in researching, planning, and implementing change initiatives. An additional staff member will concentrate on the career academies and SLCs with specific focus on the detailed strategies, policies, and plans for the creation of successful career academies and small learning communities in Nashville’s high schools.

The creation of the Office of Reform and Innovation will mark an important milestone for Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, moving the district into the implementation mode of reform. To be successful, a small and elite group such as this is needed to drive results with the authority to move across the organization and challenge existing paradigms. Key to the success of this group will be the focus on action plans for programs to be implemented across the district and on the management of the significant change that these new programs represent. Due to the critical nature of this work, Mr. Briggs and the Office of Reform and Innovation will work under my supervision.

In addition, I am moving the Department of Assessment and Evaluation to an independent department reporting directly to me. As you know this department has been reporting to the Chief Instructional Officer. I believe with the increased focus on accountability nationwide, it is important to establish an independent department that has the authority to work throughout the district on accountability and reporting issues.

I believe both of these initiatives respond to the needs in our schools and reflect the desires of our community. They dedicate resources to the important task of school reform and position us for the needed changes and improvements we must make in our schools

How this is significantly different I don't know. We're already attempting much of this. Will putting it under its own office really going to bring better results? I guess we'll see.

Moving the Department of Assessments & Evaluation out from under Sandy Johnson (Chief Instructional Officer) will be welcome news to many people.

Also issued was this press release:

MNPS Receives $5.2 Million Grant For Innovative Small Learning Communities

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Oct. 12, 2006) – Metro Nashville Public Schools has been notified by the U.S. Department of Education it will receive a grant of $5,206,420 to create Small Learning Communities in eight of its comprehensive high schools. The innovative approach, which focuses on creating Freshmen Academies for ninth-grade students, Career/Thematic Academies for grades 10-12 students, and an advisory program that pairs each student with a member of the school faculty or staff, was made possible by efforts involving Congressman Jim Cooper, Mayor Bill Purcell and Alignment Nashville.

"We believe Small Learning Communities are a model for 21st Century schools,” said MNPS Director Pedro E. Garcia, Ed.D. "No two students are alike and Small Learning Communities provide a perfect setting for helping each student reach their full potential. We're very thankful for the work of Alignment Nashville, Congressman Cooper, Mayor Purcell and others who are supporting this important effort and for helping us obtain the federal grant to make it possible."

In awarding this grant, one of the largest awarded nationally, the U.S. Department of Education cited the existence of Alignment Nashville, a community-wide effort to help our schools become successful learning environments, as a major reason for their funding decision.

"Our nonprofit community, government agencies, colleges and universities and the business community must participate in a coordinated and collaborative effort with our schools, if our schools are to be successful, and Alignment Nashville is all about creating and managing that effort," said Sydney Rogers, Executive Director of Alignment Nashville.

Participating high schools in the five-year program include: Antioch, Glencliff, Hillwood, Hunters Lane, Maplewood, McGavock, Stratford, and Whites Creek. Approximately 14,000 students will be affected by the program each year. The primary objective is to develop small, safe and successful learning environments in Nashville's public high schools, with rigorous, relevant and relationship-driven programs. A portion of this grant will be allocated for professional development for teachers.

A high school reform planning grant from the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the Carnegie Corporation, awarded earlier this year, played a key role in developing Nashville's Small Learning Communities proposal. The USCM planning grant funded the strategic planning process and a site visit to study a model program.

"Improving our high schools is a top priority for our school district and our city," said Mayor Bill Purcell. “This new grant is an important piece of what will be a community-wide effort to make sure all of our students graduate with the skills they need.”

The purpose of Alignment Nashville is to create a system to bring community organizations and resources into alignment so their coordinated support for the priorities of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools has a positive impact on student achievement and public school success.

We had smaller neighborhood schools. They were replaced by large, efficient and sleeker modern facilities which broke up neighborhoods, distanced citizens from their neighborhood schools and required millions in transportation expenses (for taxpayers and parents). Now we're creating smaller schools within those behemouth facilities.

It's been discovered that the transition from middle school to high school is critical in that often it's in the 9th grade that students begin the slide toward dropping out. The theory is that if we create more intimate 9th grade 'academies' we'll have a better chance at keeping these children in school.

Oh, and this year's buzz words are "rigor, relevance & relationship".

And why post the entire press release? Have you ever noticed that the MNPS puts most of their stuff in .pdf format--press releases, agendas, minutes...? Search engines cannot read .pdfs. The MNPS search feature is fairly worthless. So if you want to find something--you've got to know what you're looking for. We can do better.


Jeff said...

"We had smaller neighborhood schools. They were replaced by large, efficient and sleeker modern facilities..."
I was thinking the same thing as I read this. The elementary school in Union Hill comes to mind. Small school, community involvement, let's close it. Oh, I suppose there were budget considerations involved in the decision to close the school. But then we're spending money to create small learning communities. My head is spinning.

I know I sound negative. It could be a good program and I do hope it brings improvement.
Jeff Smith

George Rand said...

I think you identified the core issue in our public schools when you cited "this year's buzz words". Public "education"(more accurate would be indoctrination) has been all about "buzz words" of the year and little(if any) about education.

Anonymous said...


I am looking for 2001 upto/through 2007 budget information for the Union Hill School metioned here.

I am working on a grassroots effort to return that school to community service - not necessarily to/through the school system.

Any information can be emailed to

Michelle Hall

Kay Brooks said...


I would encourage you to go down to the Central Office and make your request for information known there. These are public records and while they may balk a bit at providing it but it's ours by rights. It may also take them a bit to find it. But stay on them. If it gets sticky make a formal Freedom of Information Act request.

Let me know how that goes and if I can be of any help.