After Charter Decision, Nashville Board Considers Diversity

Those who were hoping that something good could come out of the torpedoing of the Great Hearts Academies charter school proposal by the Nashville Metro School Board can take some comfort from the latest news being reported by the Tennessean. This Friday, the Nashville Metro school board decided to create an official diversity plan for [...]

Those who were hoping that something good could come out of the torpedoing of the Great Hearts Academies charter school proposal by the Nashville Metro School Board can take some comfort from the latest news being reported by the Tennessean. This Friday, the Nashville Metro school board decided to create an official diversity plan for their school district which will take into account more than just race and ethnicity.

The plan will focus on other diversity markers such as children speaking English as a second language, special needs students, the disabled, those at varying achievement levels and family income levels. Those were only some of the criteria outlined by the board-hired consultant Leonard Stevens as being necessary for a diversity policy to be considered comprehensive when he made his presentation to the board members late last week.

“You have left the era of integration and entered the era of diversity management,” Stevens said. “Recognize it and put your arms around it.”

Stevens, who met Metro officials when he was called to be an expert witness in a desegregation lawsuit ultimately won by the school system, said the system is “a true melting pot.”

Stevens was called in to talk to the board thanks to the efforts of the Director of Schools Jesse Register, who said that the district should use the conflict over Great Hearts as an opportunity to evaluate its limitations and figure out a way to move forward. On September 25th, Stevens and Register will jointly present a full proposal for the new diversity policy to the board. According to the Metro spokeswoman Meredith Libbey, the fee to Stevens for his part in drafting the proposal will amount to $20,000 or less.

The sticking point between the board and Great Hearts was the operator’s unwillingness to use busing to diversify the student body at the charter school that it planned to open in one of the least racially-diverse and most affluent parts of Nashville.

The Metro board was not convinced the school’s transportation and marketing plans were enough to create a diverse student body. After the board twice refused to approve the charter school, Great Hearts won an appeal in front of the state Board of Education, which ordered Metro to approve the school. After one vote to defer a decision and then a third denial,Great Hearts pulled out of Tennessee and state officials have refused to comment about possible sanctions against Metro for its defiance.

According to Stevens, the board’s insistence on busing is outdated, as a robust transportation policy was not longer a pre-requisite for making sure that a school’s student body is sufficiently diverse.

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