By Dr. Shawn Joseph
As I close my tenure as the Director of Schools, I want to thank this great community for what you do to support children. Nashville is a special place, and I truly believe we have the potential to be one of the fastest improving districts in America in the short-term, and one of the best urban school districts in America in the long-term under the proper conditions.
First, we cannot be afraid to acknowledge and address equity issues. On February 5, 2008, Dr. Pedro Garcia, former MNPS Director of Schools, wrote “Schools should not be left alone to solve problems which in reality are community problems…When the entire community accepts the slogan ‘Educating children is the most important thing our community does’ we will have safe schools where all children have an opportunity to find academic success.’” I do not know Dr. Garcia, but I do know that he understood how resistant Nashville was to addressing equity issues. Eleven years later, we are still challenged this community to address equity issues. As a community, conversations have begun about disparities between our middle class and our poor communities. It is my hope that leadership throughout Nashville will begin to convene a cross-section of government agencies, non-profits, and private companies to look at how issues around housing, education, healthcare, transportation, and crime are inter-related. We will not see dramatic gains in student performance and student outcomes until we galvanize the community to make education a priority. We must begin aligning resources across all sectors to achieve our vision. Nashville has all of the resources it needs within our community to be the most child friendly city in America.
Secondly, we must put children’s interests first in our decision-making. There will always be competition for resources in our school district. MNPS was a very adult-centered institution, and I tried to make it more student-centered by prioritizing budgets that address school needs. According to a study from Georgetown, we allocate a larger percentage of our budget to schools more than any other large school district utilizing student-based budgeting in the country. This has resulted in continued increases in ACT scores, faster growth in early literacy scores than the state and nation, more students taking advanced placement courses, and more students participating in and earning industry certifications, to name a few achievements over the past almost three years. Much more work needs to be done and many more dollars need to be allocated into areas such as textbooks, technology, after-school activities, nurses, and socio-emotional learning. These needs must be addressed while we work with the city to come up with a long-term solution to pay adequate compensation for all employees.
Lastly, we must learn to be civil as we disagree. No one wins when adults begin name-calling, contrive conspiracies, communicate inaccurate information or half-truths, and engage in social media smear campaigns to undermine others. The issues that we face in this city are complex, and they require real debate based on data and facts. The Metro Nashville community must publicly hold all leaders accountable for leading with integrity and civility. When our disagreements become personal instead of substantive on issues, and when we rush to judgement without having all of the appropriate information to make important decisions, it destroys our credibility as leaders. We can and must do better as we move forward.
I will continue to be an advocate for MNPS. My experiences have given me invaluable insight, and I will use this experience to work with communities to galvanize support for public education in America. I still believe that a quality public education is the great equalizer. We owe it to our children to fight for them, not against one another. Nashville, thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve. It has been both my honor and privilege.
Dr. Shawn Joseph, former director of Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools