Board debates urgency to create Metro schools diversity plan

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 at 1:24am

The Metro school board seems united in its call for the creation of district-wide diversity plan, but board members disagree on the timeline to create one.

And the central question is also unclear: What does diversity actually look like and how does Metro plan to ensure it? Mandating certain percentages of racial or socioeconomic student demographics isn’t an option — nor is that even the goal.

“We’re not talking about quotas,” Director of Schools Jesse Register said Tuesday at a board work session, which kicked off the process to create a diversity plan for the district’s some 140 schools.

“We’re talking about intention and direction,” he said. “Management is a good word, because what we need to realize is our community is becoming much more diverse and it’s changing very quickly.”

Tuesday’s work session came two weeks after the board voted 5-4 to reject the charter proposal of Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies, which led to the exit of the charter organization and the state’s decision to withhold $3.4 million in funds from the district.

Over its months-long pursuit for approval, Great Hearts continually ran into resistance over its diversity plan, with opponents eventually pointing to a state mandate that it adopt one that “mirrors” Metro’s. Great Hearts backers — and some school board members — pointed out that the district, in fact, lacks a single diversity-plan document.

Metro officials say the push for a diversity plan actually began last year when it tapped consultant Leonard Stevens, who would also serve as an expert witness in the district’s Spurlock v. Fox resegregation case. The Great Hearts situation, however, exposed a “blindside” for the district, one board member has said.

“We need to learn from the Great Hearts’ experience and do better as we go forward,” Register said. “But this process started almost a year ago now.”

School board chair Cheryl Mayes expressed an urgency to move quickly on adopting a diversity plan, pointing out that state law has changed for charter operators. Charters are now open for all students regardless of income — a law Great Hearts planned to take advantage of. Metro’s next charter application cycle is set for the spring.

“We need to move forward on this as quickly as we possibly can,” Mayes said. “We do not have a year. We do not have six months. We have got to get this thing on the table, and get it going, and get it going now.”

But board member Michael Hayes, a Great Hearts supporter, said he disagreed on setting such a quick completion time. “I think that this is an incredibly difficult decision to rush,” he said.

“Some of the reason we’re here this evening is, frankly, a knee-jerk reaction to what happened with the state over Great Hearts, and the way we acted, frankly,” he said. “But we can’t make that rush the process.”

Hayes later discouraged the board from implementing a “top-down approach” with “mandates” to ensure diversity.

The newly elected board initiated diversity-plan talks at a board retreat earlier this month. According to The Tennessean, Stevens introduced three possible models regarding racial, ethnic and other demographics: No one group makes up more than half of the student population; three racial ethnic groups each comprise at least 15 percent of the population; or two racial or ethnic groups each make up at least 30 percent of the school population.

“What you’re looking at is a floor, not a ceiling,” Register said of the percentages of the proposed models. “It’s not a quota. It’s a starting point or a goal.”

Mayes stressed that the board is currently working with an incomplete “draft” that is subject to change. Board members say they plan to invite input from state board of education members, Nashville charter operators, civil rights leaders and other community stakeholders as they create the plan.

A Metro diversity plan, still lacking a completion date, would require a future board vote for adoption.

“If we do this right, I think we can be a model for the entire state and the entire country,” board member Will Pinkston said.

16 Comments on this post:

By: Rasputin72 on 9/26/12 at 1:51

Yes,indeed the public school system in Nashville is fully in the hands of the 47%.

By: conservarage on 9/26/12 at 6:30

how about kids just go to the closest school to their house?

By: BellevueBill on 9/26/12 at 7:06

I don't understand Mr. Pinkston's comment about a diversity plan becoming a model for the state and entire country.

Other than Memphis and Metro, diversity does not appear to be an issue in this state.

By: budlight on 9/26/12 at 7:22

BellevueBill, that's because Pinkston wants fame. YES, how about they go the the school closest to their house? You make sense, conservarage, but the powers do be have no common sense, so that won't be a reality.

Oh, what if the district is inundated with hispanics? Does that mean they have to be bussed out to other districts? Or will the other races be bussed in?


By: Left-of-Local on 9/26/12 at 7:24

Going to the closest school is what they already do and it is the furthest thing from diversity. It is horrible, and they never should have changed back to that model without also ensuring other principles in the communities that surround the schools to make up for the lack of diversity by bussing.

Bellevue, if you don't think every civil servant desires to make an example for others to follow, think again. Now, they could stop trying to get famous and just fix the things they are directly responsible for. That'd be good.

It is nice to see Metro coming to terms with the chaos of their treatment of the diversity issue. Hopefully they'll make this choice more wisely than that retarded dress code or the REsegregation of the schools in the first place.

By: budlight on 9/26/12 at 8:17

Left, I don't agree with bussing people out of the neighborhood they live in just so some politician can claim diversity for the area.

Children need to spend as little time commuting to school as possible. So why punish them because they live in a certain neighborhood? Why not keep the communities smaller and closer to home?

I rode the fricking bus for almost an hour when I was a kid. It was aweful. It make me want to throw up a lot and I was tired in school.

If it's better teachers they want, then bus the teachers, not the children.

Dress codes are good and they save parents money. I'm not sure what you mean by REsegregation. If a neighborhood is predominately black, or hispanic, or white, then maybe the government should make some of the people move! (That was sarcastic). It will probably come to that with this culture of "we know more than you do" that we have.

By: ChrisMoth on 9/26/12 at 8:30

It would be tragic if we seriously considered routing kids based on their external appearance. We should route kids based on 1) services they need to succeed and 2) promity to our homes - which builds community, and fosters parent involvement, not to mention saving huge $ and time.

Right now, we are (essentially) tellling affluent parents that they can move to Williamson County and roughly know where they will go to school, or they can move to Davidson and get a lottery ticket. That's nuts. Especially when 1/3 of the slots at Meigs/Hume Fogg are taken by folks going across town from the Hillwood and Hillsboro clusters.

We're clogging the streets - wasting our kids lives in the cars - and accomplishing zero academically for it. Why not try a 5 year test - to make Hillsboro and Hillwood someting a little more Hume Fogg-like (parity of AP courses as one of 20 possible starting discussion points).. and see if we can't reverse some of the insanity that crept into the system over the last 30 years.

When Hume Fogg opened as a magnet it was in a rotten part of town, there were last-century-racial quotas, and very few affluent families ventured into public education. It has served its goal very well - perhaps too well - as lower Broadway is revitalized and now parents want in to the tune of 5 rejections for every 6 applications.

Let's use this opportunity to back up to 30,000 feet view - and really rethink, across Nashville, what it is we are trying to do.

Penning a diversity plan based on race, instead of poverty and academic needs, is the worst of all possible next steps we could be making.

In constrat, bravely re-focusing on bolstering both the realities and the political perceptions of our zoned schools could result in a brilliant stroke that shows the way for Tennessee, and even the country.

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: pswindle on 9/26/12 at 8:37

The Charter schools are in the business of making money off the public money and some children will never get the chance of going to a Charter. But in the long run, Charters have not proven to be the best educational choice. They can not offer all that Metro can offer. When non-certifated personnel are running the classrooms, we are in trouble.This is just one way that the Charters are cutting corners. Do they offer music, band and provide the instruments, football, which is a way out of poverty for many young men and women, art, and this is just a few of the extras that make up the lives of many students. There is more to denying Charter Schools than diversity.

By: bobyounts@comca... on 9/26/12 at 8:44

Political correctness just cost the students in Metro over 3 million dollars. Shockingly stupid.

By: Specter47 on 9/26/12 at 9:04

Rasputin72, your comment is right on. I see no need for the School Board to consider a "Diversity Plan" unless it includes ALL children. Leaving out white kids or more affluent kids of any color does not a "Plan" make.

By: hattrick3 on 9/26/12 at 1:24

Spot on ChrisMoth

By: jonw on 9/26/12 at 1:54


Oh what a tangled web we weave when social planning becomes more important than BASIC education for our children.

By: edsupp on 9/26/12 at 1:58

People are funny. If you do not want your child to go to a school, then do not move into that school's zone. If you cannot afford to be in a school's zone that you would like, then sorry about your luck. If your child is bright, then maybe he or she will be able to get into a magnet school such as MLK or Hume Fogg. Plenty of schools offer choice programs such as Pearl Cohn and their Recording Industry program. If you still do not like those schools, then try a charter school. There are plenty of those now. All of these options are out there, whether you like them or not. Coming up with a diversity plan will simply not work. How are you going to come up with a plan to get diversity in PC, Maplewood, or any other school in Nashville that is public. The fact is that many white people have moved out of Nashville into the surrounding counties. Most of the MNPS students are black. It is what it is.

By: pswindle on 9/27/12 at 9:49

Please don't give in to Haslam and his mouthpieces.

By: BigPapa on 9/28/12 at 8:01

It would appear to be the most racist statement to assume that a school that is majority black is bad. But then Black Leaders, courts, & schools boards do that every day.

Amazingly stupid.

Go to school near where you live.

By: BigPapa on 9/28/12 at 2:42

speaking of diversity, how many people will get shot during the TSU homecoming festivities? I say more than 1 but less than 5.