Thursday Metro Schools released a full report of all findings from the Listen & Learn tour hosted by Dr. Shawn Joseph and the Board of Education this past summer, as well as a report on the Teacher and Employee Voice sessions held last month. Contained in the reports are thousands of parent, community and employee comments on a broad range of topics affecting schools and students.
The findings from these stakeholder sessions are one of several major pieces of input contributing to Dr. Joseph’s full 100 Day Entry Plan report, which he will deliver to the Board of Education during its meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 29. These reports will be followed by a months-long process to share and receive stakeholder feedback on key strategic planning elements, which will ultimately result in a new strategic plan for release in late March 2017.
Listen & Learns
During his first month as Director of Schools, nearly 2,400 parents, community members and Metro Schools employees joined Dr. Joseph over the course of 12 Listen & Learn sessions. The event format combined an opportunity for interactive, written feedback on specific topics with an open-forum listening session hosted by area Board members and Dr. Joseph himself.
“When I arrived in Nashville, I had already done my research, but nothing can match hearing the experiences of people most affected by the district’s policies and practices,” said Dr. Joseph. “With the Listen & Learns, we continued a community dialogue on education, but more practically, it started my journey in learning about the district from many different perspectives. The attendees gave me a multifaceted view of what’s happening in our classrooms and our families’ homes, and allowed me to take the temperature of our most important stakeholders. The input we received has been invaluable, and it will have a direct impact on the planning work we do from here.”
Detailed notes were taken at each meeting, and all comments cards were transcribed for the official record. The resulting report is 85 pages of raw community input given directly to the Director of Schools, his leadership team, the Board of Education and the Transition Team. That report was then given to the Research, Assessment and Evaluation team in Metro Schools, headed by Dr. Paul Changas. His team pulled that report apart for a thorough qualitative analysis to break down the topics discussed and how frequently they came up.
“The input is great, but it really only works if we can synthesize it to find stakeholders’ biggest priorities and concerns,” said Dr. Joseph. “Our stellar research team took the enormous amount of information contained in that first report, broke it down and weighted it in a way that represents what the community really thinks. What we found were a broad range of concerns, but also some definite strengths and themes.”
The input and questions covered at the Listen & Learns cover five main areas, with varied topics nested within them. Listed in order from most mentions to fewest:
· Student Achievement
o School and District Structure and Resources
§ Some examples include curricular rigor, accountability & testing and class size
o Academic Programs
§ Some examples include college readiness, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), academies and early childhood education
o Climate, Discipline and Student Need
§ Some examples include social and emotional learning, discipline policies & practices and family involvement
o Student Subgroups
§ Some examples include students with disabilities and English Language Learners
· Talent and Human Resources
o Teachers and Substitutes
§ Some examples include recruitment & retention, teacher evaluation and classroom resources
§ Some examples include principals and recruitment & retention
o Climate, Culture and Diversity
§ Some examples include staff diversity and cultural competence
o Support Staff
§ Some examples include professional development, and pay & incentives
· Communications and Community Engagement
o Means of Communications
§ Some examples include social media and traditional media
o Parent/Guardian Engagement
o Community Engagement
§ Some examples include communication and stakeholders as resources
o Internal Communication
§ Some examples include district and school communication
o Image of the District and Schools
· School Choice, Facilities and Equity
o Zoned School Equity
§ Some examples include facilities & funding and academic resource equity
o School Model
§ Some examples include magnets, charters and lottery & choice
· District Strengths and Positive Remarks, whose categories include:
o Dedication of Employees
o Community, Families and Students
o Optimism for the Future
“The biggest takeaways I have from those sessions are all directly related to the classroom, which is very heartening,” said Dr. Joseph. “Parents want to make sure their children are receiving specialized academic programs based on individual need, like special education, gifted education and the middle school program. They want to see fair, equitable and effective discipline practices, and they want great teachers who reflect the diversity of our district. Those are all on our list of priorities as well, and I want to thank the community for being so honest and forthcoming with us.”
Teacher and Employee Voice Sessions
Input from the Listen & Learn sessions will be considered alongside input from the 15 Teacher and Employee Voice sessions held last month. These sessions were born from the Listen & Learns, giving district leadership the opportunity to dive more deeply into specific topics of concern brought up by the community.
During the Voice sessions, department leadership engaged with teachers and employees to discuss their areas of focus. They shared information about their departments and plans for the future and then opened up a discussion about what works, what doesn’t and what needs to change. Duplicate sessions were also held with parents, giving them another opportunity to engage in the research and planning process.
In all, 345 employees and more than 100 parents attended the Voice sessions to talk about subjects as diverse as literacy, advanced academics, transportation and special education.
“We can’t plan for the future of Metro Schools without speaking directly with Team MNPS – our employees,” said Dr. Joseph. “The Voice sessions will help a great deal in taking our next steps, but I don’t expect this engagement to end now. The Communications team has empowered our leadership and topic experts to lead engagement in their communities, and that will be an on-going effort.”
Just as in the Listen & Learn sessions, detailed notes were kept and compiled into a final report for Dr. Joseph, the Board, district leadership and the Transition Team. Of particular concern to teachers and other employees are:
o Student Support and Equity
§ Some examples include screeners, intervention and differentiated instruction
o Curriculum Relevance and Coherence
§ Some examples include the Academies of Nashville, technology and pre-K instruction
o Culture & Climate
§ Some examples include school safety, social & emotional learning and wrap-around services.
§ The emphasis on literacy was highly praised.
o Community Support
§ Some examples include partnerships through the Academies of Nashville and arts programs.
· Challenges and Opportunities
o Program Options & Choice:
§ Some examples include engaging curriculum, program access & equity and college readiness.
o Attrition and Mobility
§ Some examples include teacher and principal mobility, as well as families leaving the district.
§ Some examples include effective communication of program options & school choice, Family Portal delays and communication around behavioral concerns.
o Professional Development and Opportunities
§ Some examples include collaboration across schools, substitute teachers and compensation for all employees.
o Health & Safety
§ Some examples include safety on school buses and mental health resources.
These reports represent two important steps in beginning the strategic planning process. This feedback will be combined with findings from the Transition Team, which is comprised of community leaders and national experts who have been studying key areas of focus since July. Work by the Board over several retreats and work sessions as well as Dr. Joseph’s own personal observations will also be included in his 100 Day report. All of these efforts together provide the foundation for a new strategic plan. Parents, staff and community members will continue to have opportunities to provide feedback as elements of the plan are developed.
“Our strategic plan will be built on this incredible volume of input, the vast majority of it straight from the community,” said Dr. Joseph. “In addition to the 100 Day Entry Plan report, my Transition Team, which is made up of community members and national thought leaders, will release a formal written report of their findings next week, with recommendations expected by early 2017. Then there are the multiple reports and audits from community-based groups – like Project Reset from the Nashville Public Education Foundation – that have studied and analyzed the district from the outside. All of that put together is giving us what we need to build strategies and practices that will ensure that Metro Schools delivers a world-class public education to every student, every day.”