By Dwayne Tucker

On May 16th, LEAD Academy’s largest graduating class ever will walk across the stage at Belmont’s Curb Event Center for our sixth annual Senior Signing Day. 

Surrounded by parents, teachers and community members, these young men and women will declare to friends and family the next big step in their journey.

Dwayne Tucker is CEO of LEAD Public Schools, a network of six public schools serving Nashville, TN.


All of them have worked hard to determine this next best step, whether it be to a university, college, military or career pathway. All of them have overcome challenges to get here. And thanks to their hard work— we are pleased to say this is the sixth straight year that 100% of LEAD’s eligible graduates have been accepted to college. 

In some ways, this Senior Signing Day is even more important to us at LEAD than Graduation Day – because we know our job does not end with high school graduation. Our goal is to prepare our students for the lifetime of opportunities ahead of them.

Nationally, students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, and first-generation college attendees— the same students we serve in Nashville— are much less likely to complete a post-secondary degree than their middle-class peers. 

We are not OK with that.

That’s why we are working to prepare every student, regardless of family background, socioeconomic status, or zip code – to graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be both Ready for College and Ready for Life.

That may be a revolutionary perspective for some. But our students deserve nothing less.

According to the Tennessee State Report Card, 35% of LEAD Academy graduates are considered truly “Ready Graduates,” which combines students who graduate on time and who also scored a 21 or above on the ACT (a widely accepted measure of college and career readiness).

That’s much higher than Metro Nashville’s district average of 24%, which also includes the highly selective academic magnet schools.

We are proud of the progress our school and students have made, but we are nowhere near done.

As we looked at our alumni data, we saw that some of the biggest barriers to post-high school completion aren’t just academic, but related to what happens outside the classroom. 

So we have developed a comprehensive approach to preparing students for their next step, with a focus on helping them make college and career decisions based on the very best fit— for their own unique goals and needs.

Our students actively participate in an intensive college seminar for all four years of high school.  They research and evaluate college and career choices based on what is the best fit for them and make a decision based on five buckets— financial, academic, social, emotional and living. We challenge them to think through questions about paying for college, housing, study habits and classes, confidence and mental health. We challenge them to own their decision. 

No one else is doing anything like this. We believe our LEAD college and career process is much more intentional and intensive— for both the student and the school. But we believe it makes a huge difference.

All of this leads up to Senior Signing Day, an opportunity for students to make a commitment to themselves, to their families, and publicly to our school community. It is that one big day when every single year they’ve spent within our building is finally paying off. 

That’s why we invite all of Nashville to come to our Senior Signing Day and witness and celebrate as these students take this next big step in their journey. They’ve done the work both academically and personally to get here. 

Please join us on May 16th at the Belmont Curb Event Center at 9:30 am.  We hope you will come cheer our students on and see firsthand how the hard work of these students will pay huge dividends both for them and for our community in the years ahead.

Dwayne Tucker is CEO of LEAD Public Schools, a network of six public schools serving Nashville, TN.