Sunday, May 4, 2008

Metro, state work to correct schools

Meeting addresses district's deficient status By NATALIA MIELCZAREK • Staff Writer (Tennessean) • May 4, 2008 How much will the Metro Nashville school district allocate next year to boost achievement among special education students? What will the system do about professional development for its 5,000-plus teachers and principals? Connie Smith, executive director of accountability for the state Department of Education, told the Metro school board and administrators Saturday that they must address these and other issues if they want to succeed. She suggested they use these questions as guidelines to tailor the district's proposed $614.1 million budget and target funding at areas of deficiency under a federal education law, including reading and math. The 75,000-student district's in terim director Chris Henson said he welcomed the state's help. "We're very open to the state's suggestions, and we've been working closely with the state," he said. "Changes have been made; we've totally reorganized our federal programs office. There's no hesitancy on our part. We're looking at things differently." Smith is scheduled to meet with the school board June 7 to go over the proposed budget allocations and see whether the district has taken into account her recommendations. Only then, Smith told the group, will the district get off an unflattering list of failing systems under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The school board is ex pected to present its proposed budget to Metro Council June 9. 'You can't have inertia' "We want to see targeted funds to meet the priorities that have been identified. That's what will get you off the list," Smith said. "My mission is to make this public school system competitive with any private school. This summer big plans need to be made for next year. You can't have inertia." Smith said she wasn't sure whether the sense of urgency about the seriousness of Metro's predicament under No Child Left Behind has been communicated across the district. She also said she expected some staff reassignments next academic year to ensure that competent people are in charge of appropriate duties. Metro and Robertson County last summer moved into so-called "corrective action" status under the No Child Left Behind law for not showing enough progress among pockets of students for four consecutive years. Some already speculate Metro will miss this year's achievement because the goals are higher than last year's expectations. If that happens, Metro would receive more directives from the state about its daily operations, including use of funding. It would also have to prepare a plan for alternative governance of the district and possibly face a state takeover. Board seeks direction Several school board members asked Smith specific questions regarding future im provement: how to effectively schedule professional development or how to ensure that the new superintendent — most likely to be selected this fall — will hit the ground running. "I agree with you, Dr. Smith, that principals create a climate for the school, and I'm glad you say we need that kind of professional development," board member Ed Kindall said. "The culture in our schools that comes down from principals is key, and that we're going to treat every child the same, that they all can learn. Some of these things are not about money. They're about how we think."

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