East Nashville in Turmoil

nashvilleby Anne-Marie Farmer, LWV Nashville

Nashville Superintendent Register announced a proposal to restructure East Nashville schools making some into charters and rezoning the entire area.  It is difficult to believe that the takeover of schools was announced with no input from parents.  An uproar ensued.  Some negotiation has occurred.

If you do not know about the KIPP charter school management company, read our post: Conflict or Collaboration.  The LWV Voter article follows.

On Sunday, November 9, Superintendent Jesse Register and school board member Elissa Kim attended a public meeting with East Nashville parents about Dr. Register proposed changes to East Nashville public schools. The meeting turned contentious and emotional. I spoke with two East Nashville parent activists to provide a context for understanding the recent conversations about East Nashville schools.

The Third Way Plan

Before Dr. Register announced the “Third Way” plan for East Nashville, and before the parent pushback against that plan, parents at Inglewood Elementary began organizing to support their school and try to get a say in its future. When the state announced its latest rankings of schools by TCAP scores, Inglewood landed, for the first time, on the “priority schools” list. Inglewood parents knew that this designation meant their school might end up converted to a charter school or taken over by the state’s Achievement School District.

KIPP Charter Schools 

Parents also knew from talk in the community that the KIPP charter network was very interested in converting Inglewood into a KIPP school. According to Jai Sanders, Inglewood father and PTO Communications Chair, parents decided to be proactive and tell the school board that they supported the current Inglewood administration.

Jai noted that placing Inglewood in the KIPP pathway would have an impact on other schools in the area, as well. Inglewood would be part of the KIPP pathway, no longer a feeder school to Litton Middle School and Stratford High School, reducing the number of students headed to those schools. Parents at Inglewood overwhelmingly support keeping the school as a traditional neighborhood district school that feeds into Litton. He also voiced frustration that his school board member, Elissa Kim, has visited the school only once since she was elected two years ago.

Parent Pushback

A group of Inglewood parents spoke up at the school board meeting on September 8th to ask for additional resources and support for the school. They were stunned when, at that same meeting, Dr. Register announced the “Third Way” plan for East Nashville schools, which called for school closures, converting some schools to charter schools, and turning the Stratford and Maplewood clusters into an “all-choice zone” that might not have zoned schools.

These dramatic plans caught the attention of not only Inglewood parents, but many other parents across East Nashville. They formed an organization called East Nashville United (ENU), which demanded that MNPS scrap the Third Way plan and draw up a plan for schools based on community and parent input through the formation of a task force. Ruth Stewart, Lockeland Elementary parent and vice-chair of ENU, was one of the parents who met with board member Elissa Kim soon after the Third Way was announced. Ruth said it was apparent that there had been absolutely no teacher or parent input into the design of the plan. “East Nashville United wanted to correct that – to restart the process with community, parent, and teacher engagement as the starting point. Dialogue with all stakeholders is hard work, and it’s sometimes messy, but it’s worth the effort.” According to Ruth, no one in East Nashville supports the dreaded “status quo.” But when parents heard that a dramatic plan to reshape the landscape of East Nashville schools had been formed without the community even knowing that such a plan was in the works, it created enormous distrust and discord. “Parents need to know that if they invest their time, their faith, and their children in a Metro school, the school won’t be closed or drastically altered in a process that shuts the parents out and disregards their voice.”

District Response

MNPS has been responsive to the efforts of ENU. An East Nashville schools task force has been formed, with parent, student, teacher, and community representatives. Much of the Third Way plan has been withdrawn. While the task force, which held its first meeting on November 12, has no decision making power, parents are optimistic that it will be a forum for true community input. MNPS has also now provided Inglewood Elementary with a much needed assistant principal, a numeracy coach, and a reading specialist.

While school closures, transportation plans, and other changes to East Nashville schools won’t be announced until the spring, some big decisions will be made soon. MNPS will announce by December 1 which elementary school will be handed over to KIPP, and that remains a possible outcome for Inglewood. The ASD will also announce its takeover of a MNPS middle school in the coming months.

“With the right resources in place, Inglewood will be a success,” says Jai Sanders. “Parent engagement at our school has increased dramatically. Our PTO has more than doubled in size this year. Inglewood is going to change. We want the opportunity to decide what that change is. With MNPS’ help, over the last month, we’ve gotten many of the resources we’ve been asking for. Now it’s time to let us put those into practice and give those resources the chance and time to make a difference. We know our Inglewood faculty has the capability of turning this school around. I’d put our teachers up against anyone in the district. They are solid instructors and educators. Parents support our principal and our teachers, and we don’t want to lose them. We know firsthand the amazing, creative faculty at Inglewood and the impact they are having on the kids. They make great strides with our kids, many of whom bring very challenging circumstances. We want MNPS to listen to the parents of this school, rather than having drastic decisions about our school made on high and imposed on us. That wouldn’t happen to the families at Julia Green, and it shouldn’t happen to us.”

UPDATE: This article was originally published in the Nashville League of Women Voters newsletter, The Voter, in November 2014. Since publication, MNPS superintendent Dr. Jesse Register recommended East Nashville’s Kirkpatrick Elementary for KIPP conversion, not Inglewood Elementary. The MNPS school board will vote in early 2015 on whether to convert Kirkpatrick to a KIPP elementary school.

Posted in Charter Schools, Reform, Tennessee.

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