The U.S. Department of Education, the Tennessee Department of Education and Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools are determined to ensure the success of every school. For those schools that are considered underperforming, or "High Priority" as measured by their No Child Left Behind ("NCLB") status, specific strategies and resources have been put in place through a combination of federal grants, including Race to the Top, to turnaround school performance through improved student achievement across all subgroups of students. To read about Tennessee's First to the Top strategies for underperforming schools, please visit: http://tn.gov/firsttothetop/programs-turnaround.html
MNPS Focus & Renewal Schools
Schools that fail to meet certain benchmarks according to Tennessee's accountability system are classified according to a spectrum of "High Priority" categories. School performance benchmarks include measures of attendance, graduation rate, student performance on reading and language arts assessments and student performance on math assessments. When a school misses a pre-determined benchmark, then it is placed in a probationary category, and is expected to turn around its performance within a year. If the school fails to succeed in its effort, and continues to miss key student achievement benchmarks, then it is continuously placed into more restrictive High Priority categories that require increased intervention.
For those schools that have missed pre-determined benchmarks, the Tennessee Department of Education, through its First to the Top funds, has provided funds to invest in turnaround services that include school improvement planning and targeted reform models for selected areas of academic focus. For those schools that have missed benchmarks continuously over time, First to the Top funds, in combination with School Improvement Grant funds, provide for the implementation of a selected whole school reform model to assist in their turnaround efforts.
Leading with Learning Environments: Integrating Technology for Improving Instruction
The MNPS Instructional Technology Department, in collaboration with the Information Technology & Data Management Department, launched a competitive grant process in March open to all MNPS schools, with preference given to High Priority MNPS schools, to promote the integration of instructional technology into core academic instruction. The grants are funded through Race to the Top with the dual intention of encouraging the use of technology for innovative teaching practices, and also for improving students' academic performance in specific, targeted areas of academic focus.
The grants will provide seed or scale up money for schools to redesign learning environments utilizing instructional technology to positively impact student engagement in ways that increase student achievement. The proposed technological innovations are expected to be tied to academics in a meaningful way, scalable to provide tools and resources for the entire school (as opposed to one classroom), and sustainable as evidenced by a strategic plan for how the proposed instructional adaptation will be supported by the school beyond implementation. The grant also requires the production of exemplary lesson units/plans aligned with required standards, adequate professional development for teachers and instructional staff and the inclusion of clear, concise and measurable outcomes for evaluative purposes. The grants are expected to be reviewed and approved in May, and implemented immediately thereafter.
Development of Effective School Leadership Teams
As in any enterprise or organization, an effective leadership team is essential for success. This is especially true for schools because of diverse stakeholder influences, multi-faceted contexts within which schools operate, and the monumentally important role schools play in the lives of students and families. Race to the Top funds have been devoted to developing the leadership capacity of school-based leadership teams, with priority placed on the leadership teams of High Priority schools. The leadership development focuses on core aspects of teaching and learning in diverse, urban settings, including cultural competency, leading through large-scale organizational and cultural transformation, and meeting the needs associated with rising standards and diverse student populations.