Blog

My School of Thought….on My Role as a School Board Member

I read this on the floor of the Board during my first board meeting on September 11, 2018.

I would like to take a moment to make a statement about my beliefs and my vision for my term on this board.

I’m tremendously honored to be here, and to be entrusted with the responsibility of helping guide the direction of Metro Nashville Public Schools. I have spent my career in the trenches, starting as a substitute teacher, and moving from the classroom all the way to central office. I have dedicated my professional, and much of my personal life, to helping children, families and communities.

I ask each of you to judge my votes, and the actions that I take as a board member, through the prism of my values and beliefs about children, about educators, and about Nashville.

I believe that our focus and priority should be on student achievement and success, and that all other facets of the operation of this district, whether they are the creation of a budget, of our HR practices, or our operational functions or curricular decisions, or the evaluation of our Director of Schools, should always be judged by how they will impact student success.

I understand that there is a lack of confidence in TNReady scores, but take a close look at any metric, whether it is student proficiency on MAP tests, English Learner progress on WIDA ACCESS, the percent of 3rd graders reading on grade level, or the number of our schools in the bottom 10% of the state, college readiness on ACT scores, and the number of our graduates receiving a post-secondary degree, and the consensus must be that we are leaving far too many students behind. That we have not done all that we can do.

I hope we can restore a sense of urgency around student outcomes, and resist the urge get mired in conversations that can distract us, or place blame elsewhere. We are easily distracted by conflict between adults, or in assumptions about student ability, or whether our families value education, or whether the poverty we see is just too much to overcome.

I believe an effective board follows a model of informed and balanced governance, meaning that we should discourage micromanaging on one end of the continuum, and rubber-stamping on the other. Informed and balanced governance means that our oversight of the Director of Schools and his team requires us to set and monitor ambitious goals for student learning, and to have a informed understanding of the levers and strategies used to achieve our student learning goals. You must rightfully judge every action we take on whether we are moving the needle on those metrics.

And I believe in the concept of reciprocity of accountability – meaning that if we are in a position to hold the Director and his team accountable for accomplishing goals we have set for him, that we must also be held accountable for our ability to work together, to use data to inform our work, of using evidence in our decisions, and of pushing for innovation, collaboration, and results-focused strategies. But we must resist the urge to have an all or nothing set of criteria – knowing that we will make good progress in some areas, and need to double down or change course in others. We must own our mistakes when we make them, look our staff, students and families in the eye and tell them how we will make them right.

You can count on me to look at the evidence, to gather the latest research and consult experts before I make a decision. You may not always agree with the decisions I make, or votes that I take, but I commit to doing my homework and staying true to the values that I laid out when I decided to run for office. I will never make a decision in isolation, and will always welcome input and ideas.

I will celebrate and call out success in our schools, and press for us to replicate those great strategies. But I will also call out issues and ask the very hard, even painful questions, when I think we have not done enough.

I see my job as speaking up for our students, and that will make the adults uncomfortable sometimes. And I will remain focused on helping my fellow board members succeed, and do what I can to increase our effectiveness, and do my part to build a culture of mutual respect and collaboration, so that our children and our staff can excel, and our city can thrive.