published Monday, July 18th, 2011

Nashville plan targets struggling schools

Metro Nashville’s lowest-performing schools will be grouped together in their own cluster, run by their own administrator and inspected often.

At Tuesday’s school board meeting, Director of Schools Jesse Register outlined an aggressive school turnaround plan Metro created to avoid the state stepping in to run failing schools.

State officials oversee five schools — four in Memphis and Howard School of Academics and Technology in Chattanooga — considered at the bottom 5 percent. Two Metro schools, Glencliff High and Cameron Middle, almost qualified for the state’s Achievement School District. Half of Metro schools miss testing goals each year.

“The intention is to cut through the red tape … and pull out all the stops to turn around our lowest-performing schools,” Register said. “We think there are 10 schools that fall into this category.

“Once schools fall into corrective action, we see the strategies we use to turn the schools around have not been successful.”

The schools can’t be selected until test scores from the spring are released in a few weeks. Register said he would appoint the new executive director of innovation from within, and the cluster will launch for the coming school year.

Under the Innovation Cluster plan, Metro will group schools that miss student performance goals for four years or more. Options for those schools include nontraditional teachers, flexible school calendars and more resources.

“When schools are struggling, you jump on it with a plan that maybe even is groundbreaking,” board member Mark North said. “It’s a unique approach to turning schools around.”

The schools can hire teachers from backgrounds other than education and contract with consulting groups for help.

The state approved Metro’s plan for keeping its schools out of the Achievement School District, said Amanda Morris, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Education.

It’s not only a Metro goal, but a state one, to improve failing schools.

“It’s a high priority on the list for everybody,” Morris said. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide the best education for all students regardless of background or where they go to school, because that’s what they deserve.”

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