School board struggles to find footing in post-Great Hearts reality

Monday, July 1, 2013 at 12:51am
062813 MNPS Amy Frogge main.jpg
Amy Frogge (File)

Baptized in political controversy that spanned the better part of a year, members of the Metro Nashville school board are trying to reset the conversation.

Members indicated this week a desire to shift their attention from the politics of charter schools to looking at where the board ultimately wants to go — including zeroing in on teacher-focused issues like recruitment and training.

“I think this past year has been a particularly trying year for the school board, and a new board,” said Amy Frogge, an attorney and board member in her first year.

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board is days away from seeing the district’s new Strategic Plan, a document expected to lay out a blueprint for reaching the district’s goals. But some newer members of the board elected in August are beginning to discuss whether they want to trace back to the larger mission of the district or at least take a step back and right their footing.

Frogge and the rest of the board agree that too much of their time in the past year has been sucked up by fallout of an ugly charter school fight. What started as a rejection of Phoenix-based Great Hearts Academies’ charter school on the basis of diversity and transportation concerns last summer became a catalyst for a high-tension standoff between the school district and the state.

The state then fined MNPS $3.4 million for repeatedly rejecting Great Hearts’ charter school application. The legislature followed up by crafting plans to let an outside group OK rejected charters in the Nashville area, although the idea narrowly failed this spring.

“We were under fire with Great Hearts, and I think that we have not had the opportunity to come together as a new board and talk about what our vision is,” said Frogge.

The board has since then trudged through creating a budget that included nearly $15 million in new dollars to accommodate a growing charter school population and pondered the need for a plan to afford charter schools long term. Then this week, the board approved four of six new charters that want to open their doors in the 2014-15 school year.

Frogge said she’s done approving new charter schools until the board and the district can come up with a plan to afford for them.

“I can’t in good conscience continue to vote for new schools if we don’t know how we’re going to pay for them,” she told The City Paper, adding that the board has spent a disproportionate amount of time focused on charter schools, which teach roughly 5 percent of the district’s students. “I think we need to make a lot of hard decisions as a district and come up with a clear financial plan so that we’re being fiscally responsible.”

Frogge wants to take a step back. She wants to revisit the board’s vision for the district and possibly edit or add to it in a way that gives the current board ownership of what direction it sees for MNPS to “ensure that we are operating together as a board. I think we have not,” she said. Fellow member Sharon Gentry, who is in her second term, isn’t so sure the district needs to reinvent the wheel.

“It feels like, because we have a new board that we need a new vision,” said Gentry who added it would make her “uncomfortable” if, for example, her employer, Hospital Corporation of America, changed its focus every four years. “It’s kind of freaky to change your vision.”

The more important focus needs to be tying the goals of the district together across the board, said Gentry.

Some of those goals might be trying to figure out what levers the district needs to pull to achieve the best results, said Elissa Kim, also a first-year board member. Her day job is serving as executive vice president of recruitment and admissions at the national teacher-recruitment group Teach for America.

One direction for the board to go is to focus more on teachers, addressing issues like where and how the district recruits teachers, and the quality of professional development training provided for educators, said Will Pinkston, a first-year board member who was formerly a political operative working for Gov. Phil Bredesen and now is a consultant who works on education issues outside Tennessee.

For example, Pinkston wants to have a better idea of how the district attracts future teachers to MNPS. A study by the National Council on Teacher Quality found nearby universities like Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University among the best in the country for teacher training programs.

“I just think it’s important for the board to start articulating what information it wants and when it wants to receive it, and not waiting for it to come to us,” Pinkston said.

7 Comments on this post:

By: ancienthighway on 7/1/13 at 1:38

The board will continue to struggle with the great Great Hearts Affair as long as reporters keep bringing it up rather than reporting on it's current activities.
A coming challenge, not only for the MNPS board but public schools across the state is this new anti-teacher bill that was mentioned in the CP a week or so ago. Tougher to hire, easier to fire, and only 4 pay raises in a 20 year career. Pay raises, by the way, are not related to increased credentials, but whether students can pass a test. Not unlike the Voter Literacy Tests of day yore.

By: ChrisMoth on 7/1/13 at 2:18

I am impressed that we are starting to chat about system-wide teacher recruitment, and get up and over the walls to look outside the charter-dtich-dig. NOW, finally, we're starting to get somewhere.

I recently heard that we have a number of newly minted Masters degree holders from Peabody and Lipscomb who want to teach at MNPS - and in subjects where they are sorely needed. However, their hiring by MNPS is on hold until placement of other candidates who were let go from other schools, or TFA (Teach for America) candidates. Some are likely to move out of state, to other states. That is tragic for our children, and for the taxpayers.

I'm not going to claim that a Masters degree _necessarily_ confers any increased teaching skill. But, we can look at these candidates, and appreciate that some of them have spent on the order of $100,000 to receive these degrees. Surely, they have more than a passing interest in being in front of our children in the classroom. Clearly, we need them in fields like math, science, etc.

The Tribal report identified individual school leadership as needing support. What a great opportunity to put that into action. Let's let our principals hire who they like. Great teachers do naturally move from school to school. And, some Teach For America folks bring wonderfully fresh and diverse perspectives into our classrooms. But, why must our hiring be held hostage to the teacher's union and Teach For America? Is that _really_ best for our kids? Really?

What's the point of having the best education programs in the nation right here in Nashville, when our local principals are bureaucratically prohibited from interviewing any of the talent graduating from them?

Chris Moth, 2020 Overhill Dr

By: george zimmerma... on 7/2/13 at 7:06

The school board broke the law deal with it.

By: ancienthighway on 7/2/13 at 8:37

It was dealt with last year with the financial penalty. It's time to move on.

By: pswindle on 7/2/13 at 2:45

The School Board needs to do away with Charter Schools and put all of it resources into the schools and teachers. Fire Mr.Register and Hauffman and the school will be back in business of teaching and learning. The most important is too vote out of office the lazy, wimpy governor. The one that knows nothing and sees nothing.

By: TennesseeJed on 7/2/13 at 4:32

Attention readers: If you did not read Chris Moth's post on this thread, do so immediately. If you did read it, read it again as it is right.on.point.

By: TennesseeJed on 7/2/13 at 4:35

How did MNPS get hooked into this relationship with Teach for America anyway? How anyone on Earth would prefer a 'teacher with love' from TOA over a teacher with love, experience, and a master's degree from Vanderbilt or Lipscomb or UTK is beyond me.