East Nashville parents are fighting Director of Schools Jesse Register's plan to close low-performing schools (priority schools) and hand other schools over to charter operators.
Register also wants to let families in the area choose where their children will attend school. Joey Garrison of The Tennessean says a political action committee (PAC) has been formed and named, East Nashville United, mobilizing parents and teachers at all schools in the group of high schools in the targeted area.
"We ask that Dr. Register tear up his plan and start from scratch," said Christine Pulle, a parent in Inglewood and spokesperson for the group. She said a "campaign" is required for that to happen. "What we demand is a community-driven plan created by listening and responding to the needs of our diverse schools and neighborhoods."
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean said Register's move is courageous and highly promising. The group announced its PAC formation, however, and is planning to meet with Register and the mayor in the near future. East Nashville United (ENU) has created an online petition to reject Register's work-in-progress plan, which the group believes was "planned in secret". As a PAC, the group can raise funds for fliers, mail pieces, and other political communication. The ENU group wants to have "one cohesive voice".
Register's future with the school system is unclear at this time as his contract expires in June. His announcement of the turnaround strategy came on the heels of a number of Metro schools scoring in the bottom 5% statewide, which jumped from six to 15 over the past three years.
Last week, parents concerned about the new strategy met at Bailey STEM Magnet Middle School, the first stop on Register's tour of all 34 low-performing schools in Nashville. Chris Bundgaard, reporting for WKRN-TV Nashville, writes that the changes could begin during this school year and closures could begin before the beginning of the next school year. Many parents at the meeting were upset at the possibility of losing "neighborhood schools".
According to Register's plan, parents would rank which schools they want their children to attend, whether that would be charter, magnet, or traditional. Matches would probably be determined by a lottery.
Because of the influx of charter schools into East and North Nashville, many students have already left traditional schools. Some of the priority schools are down to 60% capacity, writes Joey Garrison of The Tennessean.
It's traumatic to close schools, but the data shows we have a couple of thousand extra seats in East Nashville. We're operating schools that are underutilized, and some of them are low-performing," said Register.
Conversion of some struggling Metro schools to charters has started. The district has asked KIPP Nashville, a charter network which has been approved by the board, to lead the conversion of one district school. The state-run Achievement School District has been given authority to transform priority schools as well. It is in talks with MNPS officials about the school it will take under its wing. There is only one ASD school in Nashville at this time.
Other plans proposed by Register include: changes in principal positions at some struggling schools; reviews of teachers who have consistently scored low on annual teachers' evaluations; hiring a "turnaround specialist" to oversee the removal of all Nashville schools from the priority list in three years; structuring East Nashville schools to allow students to follow similar academic programming from elementary to high school; and implementing the "all choice" zone in East Nashville.