It’s been nearly two months since the Tennessee Department of Education released the list of the state’s worst-performing schools for 2018. Metro-Nashville Public Schools has 21 schools on the list.
Last month, our reporter and the Director of Schools got into a heated exchange at a press conference he held to answer questions about the increase in “priority” schools.
There are eight more schools on the state’s priority list today than there were four years ago.
Dr. Shawn Joseph invited News 2 reporter Jessica Jaglois to take a look inside a priority school. They toured Bellshire Elementary.
Many Bellshire students live in poverty. Ninety-eight percent of the student body receives free lunch. The school has students who aren’t reading at their grade level.
“It’s challenging,” said Bridget Galbreath, a new Language Arts teacher at Bellshire.
Galbreath came from Napier Elementary school, which was a priority school until this year. She hopes she can help the students at Bellshire like she did at Napier.
“When I’m teaching them every day, I see their eyes lighting up and how they’ve progressed so much just in two months. It’s well worth the work.”
At the beginning of the school year, twenty-four percent of students were regularly missing class.
“When an elementary child doesn’t come to school, it’s not the child’s fault,” said Dr. Joseph. “A lot of times it’s the adult. We have an adult issue we have to attend to. Our goal is to make sure when students are out, parents know the importance and impact on their education and we want to make sure we can do everything we can do to wrap around to give the parents the support they need, kids the support they need so they can learn.”
According to Bellshire’s principal, the number of students absent from school has decreased from 24 percent to 15 percent in two months. He said some students who live too close to be on a bus route don’t have a way to get to school.
“If our children are not here, we want to know why,” said Dr. Donald Black. “I have walked students from home to here and walked them back to make sure that they get here and receive all of the tools that they need to have a successful future.”
Dr. Black is a new principal, having moved here from Alabama. Dr. Joseph hired him to help right Bellshire’s sails.
Dr. Joseph has helped hire 21 new principals across Metro-Nashville.
There is a litany of new teachers, funding and community partners for priority schools. The community partners include folks who will help children with anything, from learning how to properly brush their teeth to free rides back and forth from school.
Metro-Nashville Public Schools has also created a team to focus on priority schools and teachers are receiving coaching.
Dr. Joseph has received criticism in his short time as Nashville’s Director of Schools. There has been a sexual harassment scandal and calls for his resignation, in part, over the increase in priority schools.
Most of the data used to calculate the list predate Dr. Shawn Joseph’s tenure, but it’s up to him to fix it.
“We’re pushing all schools but priority schools, in particular, we have to make sure they accelerate at faster rates,” he said. “We’ve got to have great leadership, great teachers, they’ve got to have strong curriculum and we’ve got to have wrap-around services for parents and students. Those are the four we’re really pushing on to get the type of results we want to see.”
MNPS will meet next month to see if their plans to help priority schools are working.