Metro Nashville Public Schools will reopen its doors on Aug. 7 after the summer break, and Director of Schools Shawn Joseph and his 47-member transition team have planned extensive changes and improvements for new and returning students.
Upon agreeing to a four-year contract with MNPS in May of 2016, Joseph created the transition team as a means to examine the ways that the district could be improved for students, educators and parents. The transition team was formed in July 2016 and included local community leaders and national experts.
“By bringing both a local and national perspective to oversee the transition team, I feel confident this group will produce recommendations that reflect the best, most innovative practices in America's public-education sector, but custom-tailored to meet the unique needs of Nashville,” Joseph said in a press release.
The team released a comprehensive report in November 2016 based on their research and examination of the opportunities and advancements of the district. The report included many recommendations for improvements from four subcommittees that focused on Student Achievement, School Choice, Talent Management, and Communication and Community Engagement.
“Several themes emerged out of this deep analytical work that we also saw emerge from the broad community input that we sought during my first 100 days,” Joseph said. “What this tells me is that the community’s desires are aligned with our student’s needs.”
The main themes that developed from the team’s research are as follows: the strength of the people and the community to do the work; the benefit of equality and the challenge of achieving equity; the need for a clear district vision and unity of direction; and establishment of clear structures and processes to guide the system’s work. With these themes in mind, the team’s recommendations were developed, and the district began implementing the recommendations in May 2017.
According to the transition team’s report, one of the promptings for recommendations was the significant “achievement gap” that was discovered between students of different racial, social and economic status.
“The district's one goal is to deliver a great public education to every student, every single day they walk in the classroom,” Metro Public Schools Communication Specialist Amber Plunkett said. “There's significant work underway related to literacy and ensuring our students are reading at grade level by grade three, including new assessments that show growth progress and allow for educators to individualize instruction on a student-by-student basis.”
Once district leaders reviewed the transition team’s report, they released a strategic framework in 2017 to outline the strategies and procedures the schools will take in the coming years. One of the main strategies that the framework described for students in the district is increasing the relevance and rigor of the Pre-K-12 curriculum, which includes adding a multicultural and global relevance to instructional activities. Another important strategy for students mentioned in the framework is the implementation of the STEAM program.
“Middle school is a pivotal time in a child’s education – a time when students need a high-quality, interdisciplinary education that sparks their curiosity and challenges their thinking,” Plunkett said. “Just like any career a student will find after school, students need experiences that merge traditionally independent subject areas and skillsets, like math and science and art, into one comprehensive learning experience.”
The STEAM curriculum, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, will be implemented this year in 18 middle schools in the district and will strive to provide an advanced learning experience on a day-to-day basis.
“Educators will break down the traditional subject-based classroom barriers and purposefully integrate all areas of STEAM curriculum into their classroom,” Plunkett said. “Through a collaborative planning approach, educators will challenge students to think critically, be creative, communicate and collaborate with their peers while empowering them to better understand how their skills fit into our complex world.”
MNPS also will promote a renewed focus on their English Learners program, which is designed to assist in the transition of students from foreign countries. The EL program, along with other initiatives in the strategic framework, will be additional attempts to bridge the achievement gap outlined in the transition team report.
“Our EL program will be supported by almost 30 new EL teachers,” Plunkett said. “The district will pay for high school students to take applicable certification tests so they are career and college ready as soon as they graduate from a Metro School. It will be a big year for all MNPS students and employees. We're excited to embark on Dr. Joseph's second year in just a few short weeks.”
Andrew Wigdor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.