Dr. Shawn Joseph visits with MNPS elementary students.

NASHVILLE, TN — Over the past year, Dr. Shawn Joseph, director of schools, has worked with the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education to develop a highly rigorous assessment

Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Metro Schools

process to offer Metro Nashville Public School families and the community a deeper look into the goals, accomplishments and positive movement toward stronger student achievement. After 24-months on the job, Joseph made public his first self-evaluation since taking the helm of the distressed school district in 2016 outlining his leadership and work in addressing the district’s most pressing concerns. 

Supported by a strong budget, the self-evaluation points to encouraging advances made in the 2017-2018 school year which afforded MNPS opportunity to effectively execute in several crucial areas. That budgetary backing helped demonstrate progress in literacy improvements, equitable access to programs, providing more services and supports for all students, and working to offer additional professional development, compensation and voice for MNPS employees.

As the 41st largest school district in the nation, MNPS is responsible for educating 86,000 students supported by more than 11,000 employees. Michael Casserly, executive director

A group of high school students share with Dr. Shawn Joseph ways in which schools can better support them.

of Council of the Great City Schools, a consortium of the nation’s 70 largest urban public-school systems, called Joseph’s self-evaluation “among the most thorough and rigorous I have seen anywhere in the country.”

“The work of the [MNPS] director of schools and the school board are integral to the health of the Nashville community,” Casserly said. “That the superintendent welcomes these measures and that the board looks to them to gauge progress are tributes to how serious they are about improving student attainment.”

The nearly 50-page assessment addresses 54-key measures touching on everything from school climate to employee development and fiscal management, among other priorities. Joseph was charged with grading his leadership abilities in six goal areas and aligning those qualities with Key Performance Indicators that accompany the goals – both new structures for rigorous measurement the board and Joseph put in place since he arrived. The district further committed to greater accountability by developing a new Strategic Framework which sets clear priorities and measures that align with the budgeting process. In addition, to student achievement and increased accountability, the evaluation provides families and community members with details on progress made with better communication and customer service. 

When Joseph first arrived to the district, he assembled a transition team of business,

Dr. Shawn Joseph greets a Middle College High School student at a district announcement for the Early College program which will allow students to earn a high school diploma and college associate degree in four years and at no cost.

education and community leaders who sharply examined the challenges of the school district and made 121 recommendations to guide the director’s actions toward improving the system. To date, 91 of those recommendations have been successfully met, including all those addressing student achievement.

“As a co-chair of the Transition Team put into place at the beginning of Dr. Joseph’s tenure, I am very pleased with the progress we have seen in a very short period of time,” said David Williams II, vice chancellor for University Affairs and Athletics at Vanderbilt University. “The Transition Team conducted some very extensive research and made more than 100 recommendations designed to move the work of the system forward and to ensure continuous achievement. By all accounts, Dr. Joseph and his team have tackled these recommendations with a sense of urgency. I am encouraged by the positive work that has taken place so far and I commend the Board of Education on establishing a comprehensive evaluation process that clearly communicates our city’s expectations for excellence in the school system.”

Business leaders also noted the district’s need for improvement to positively impact student performance. In the 2017 Education Report Card, released by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the education committee wrote that, “despite the challenges facing Metro Schools there are reasons for optimism.”

“The renewed sense of urgency coming from the director of schools and his administration around the greatest needs in Metro Schools shows a great deal of promise,” the report stated. “After one year as director of schools, Dr. Joseph has begun to implement some of the initiatives generated from a nine-month effort to engage students, families, teachers and staff in strategic planning around the needs of the district. The committee applauds the efforts of Dr. Joseph and his administration to hold themselves accountable for ensuing the academic success of our students.”

In the 2017-2018 school year, the district made positive gains in reading and math, college-readiness and industry certification testing. MNPS doubled the number of students taking advanced courses in high school, and nearly doubled the number of students taking college entrance and industry certification exams. Further, improvements were seen in the pass rate of students who took industry certifications which jumped from 59 percent to 61 percent. The number of students taking the exams also increased by 70 percent over the previous year. 

Student achievement was also evident at the elementary and middle school levels. From August to February, students in grades 2-8 exceeded the national average in reading and math proficiency, while the percentage of the district’s earliest at-risk readers (some risk or high risk) on the Kindergarten Early Reading assessment saw a reduction from fall to spring.  

There was also a concentrated focus on measures that support better communication and customer service to assist families. Efforts included helping them navigate through the School Options process, assisting with Pre-K placements, using GPS to track school buses in real-time and providing zoning information. Response times for calls dramatically increased, as well as faster information sharing through social media, and a new system for tracking school performance throughout the year, which will launch in July.

“As a proud partner with Metro Nashville Public Schools, the PENCIL team is encouraged by the increased collaboration and engagement with the school district,” said Angie Adams, president and CEO of PENCIL. “Our focus of connecting the business community to schools is even more robust as MNPS’ success in student achievement expands. Dr. Joseph’s self-evaluation well details the strong leadership and commitment to achievement that our public schools need. The positive work is not only helping to propel our school district but is building excitement around how every stakeholder can contribute to the success of every child.”

While the district’s new administration has accomplished much in a short period of time, Joseph said he would give his team’s overall performance a B+.

“While incredible progress has been made, I simply cannot justify an A grade when many students still are not performing at grade level,” Joseph said. “This process has been invigorating and it is encouraging to see all that has been accomplished over the last two years which is setting the stage for even greater strides in the future.”