My School of Thought . . . on Our High Schools

I graduated from Hillwood High School at a time when most of the neighborhood kids went there, and during the tumultuous years when Bellevue and Hillwood High Schools merged. I was uninspired by my courses until my junior year, when I took US History from Barbara Henegar, who challenged us and treated us like scholars. She encouraged me to take an AP course my senior year, and I began to see myself as a serious student. I didn’t receive much in the way of college advising, and college visits and exploration were not what they are now. My parents encouraged me to look beyond Tennessee, and I enrolled in Indiana University, where I had to take remedial math, but I excelled in my humanities courses.

My high school story is not unusual for that time; I was given little in the way of guidance on careers or context for my learning. I had no meaningful work experience, no internships, nor opportunities to shadow people in the workplace. Luckily, our high schools today are structured to provide students with a multitude of ways to explore their interests, to deepen their understanding through a focused pathway, and to prepare themselves for college and for high skill and high wage careers.

The Academies of Nashville are now in their tenth year, and I am proud to say I was one of the first Academy Coaches, seasoned teachers who helped redesign our high schools into smaller academies. I implemented career academies at Overton High School, asking teachers to work in teams, to plan together, and to tie their instruction to relevant and real world applications whenever possible. It seemed revolutionary then, but many teachers welcomed the new opportunities for leadership and collaboration. The Academies are now in the DNA of our high schools, with hundreds of academy partners embedded in schools, designing curriculum, hosting interns and teacher externships, and becoming part of the school community. Take a look at the most recent Annual Report to see the impact the academies are having across our city, or read the 10-year Storybook to hear the stories of students whose lives were changed by their academy experience.

But there is work left to do. A recent report from Tennessee College Access and Success Network and the Nashville Public Education Foundation shows that only 24% of our graduates are receiving a degree within six years (from either 2 or 4 yr. college). The decision to place college counselors in each high school is an important step, but we must also ensure that our students are ready to succeed on the first day of college. We must increase access to more rigorous coursework, and provide the requisite supports and resources for student success. As a school board member I will focus on ensuring our students are graduating ready for success in their next chapter, which requires shared vision and purpose from pre-k through graduation day. That is our fundamental role as a public school system and ultimately how we must define our success.