#MNPSVoices: Delishia Danielle Porterfield, Exceptional Education Coach

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All students can learn. That is the belief of Delishia Danielle Porterfield, an exceptional education coach for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

“I [want to] ensure our students with disabilities have the same opportunities as their peers,” Porterfield said. “Everyone was created for a reason and has something to offer. We were created for a specific purpose.”

A former special education teacher, Porterfield now helps teachers, administrators and parents work better with students who have disabilities and to see the enormous potential of these students.

“The favorite part of my job is advocating for our students,” Porterfield said. “I enjoy giving people the tools to work with all students regardless of their ability level.”

Before joining Metro Schools, Porterfield was an exceptional education teacher in Williamson County Schools. Her move to MNPS in 2012 was both thoughtful and strategic.

“MNPS has a strong history and legacy [of providing great education to students]. I wanted to work in an urban district to help empower our next generation of leaders.”

Although Porterfield loves working with students with disabilities, her job does not come without emotional ups and downs.

“My heart breaks when I see a parent cry with hopelessness,” Porterfield said. “I rejoice with families when I see tears of thankfulness because they have someone in their corner partnering with them to give their child the best opportunities possible. Those encounters are the moments that remind me why I do what I do.”

While Porterfield’s work has its challenges, she is thankful to have a strong team of exceptional education teachers supporting students with disabilities throughout the district.

“Our exceptional educators want to take the limits off of our students,” she said. “We are passionate about what we do because we see the difference it makes. We want to empower schools with the tools to help educate all students and for our students, and I am inspired by the wonderful things we are doing here in MNPS. The work that our teachers and paraprofessionals do each day is life changing.”

Overton High School partners with Comcast to close the digital divide

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More than 150 students and guests visited Overton High School Sept. 17 to announce a new partnership with Comcast kicking off their Digital Literacy initiative. Students from the Academy of Information Technology are part of a student-led digital literacy training program, the “B.O.B. Squad” (Bobcat Opportunities through Broadband), in which they will provide trainings based out of Comcast-funded computer labs. A total of 100 IT students were chosen to be a part of the inaugural group.

Through this program, BOB Squad members will work with Legacy Mission Village and others in the community to increase digital literacy in the area. As a way to encourage students to become more digitally literate themselves, every member of the BOB Squad received a laptop from Comcast and six-months of free internet service. The company also awarded a $20,000 Comcast Foundation grant to Legacy Mission Village to establish a computer lab serving refugee families in Middle Tennessee.

“We have connected six million low-income people – 48,000 in Davidson County – through the Internet Essentials program since 2011,” Cohen said. “Comcast believes that the Internet has the power to transform lives, strengthen communities, and inspire a new generation of leaders.”

The event included Metro Nashville Public Schools leaders and community partners from across the city, including Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, Board of Education Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and District 2 Board of Education Member Rachael Anne Elrod. Also, participating in the event was Nashville Mayor David Briley, Comcast Senior Executive Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer David L. Cohen and U.S. Gold Medalists Monique Lamoureux-Morando and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson, among other leaders from government, business and education.

“This generous partnership will not only give students access to technology but will help expose them to new social and economic opportunities,” Dr. Joseph said. “We are so very excited about this effort and we sincerely thank Comcast for partnering with Metro Nashville Public Schools.”

#MNPSVoices: Karon Fairs, Senior Secretary – Athletics

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Karon Fairs is a fairly new face to Metro Nashville Public Schools, but she’s no stranger to sports. Fairs, who was named senior secretary for the district’s Athletic Department just over a year ago, said, “I love sports, I love people and I love my job.”

Her recent appointment with the school district is new but she has a long history with Nashville’s public school system. Born and raised in Nashville, Fairs attended Alex Green Elementary and Cumberland Middle Schools. She graduated from Whites Creek High School and then attended Tennessee State University, where she also worked for 11 years in the Human Performance and Sport Science Department.

During her tenure as a student in Metro Schools, she played in the band for eight years, but her number one passion was playing sports.

“I wasn’t just a student; I was a student-athlete,” Fairs said. “I ran track in the 440-relay, the hurdles and the 100-yard dash.”

In her current role in the MNPS Athletics Department, Fairs believes she has found her sweet spot. She plays a key role in the execution of the day-to-day activities. Not one day goes by without Fairs speaking with a school’s athletic director, a coach or principal to make sure that upcoming sporting events, as well as all student-athletes, are in compliance with Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) rules and MNPS standards and policies. In addition, she works to assure that schools have public safety presence, such as police officers and EMTs, available at sporting events for the safety of students as well as the fans. Fairs also makes sure that all sporting equipment ordered for schools meets the guidelines for TSSAA and MNPS to provide the safest equipment possible for students.

“I like having the opportunity to connect with people and provide good customer service,” Fairs said. “I don’t get to attend all the games but I interact with schools all the time. I have three children who are athletes and two of my daughters play sports in Metro Schools, so I also spend most of my time supporting them and their schools.”

Additionally, Fairs gets to plan special events for the Athletic Department such as the Hall of Fame Luncheon. When she is not attending MNPS sporting events, she spends her time shopping and attending professional sporting events with her husband and three children.

#MNPSVoices: Lakisha Tucker, Front Office Assistant

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Lakisha Tucker’s life revolves around children. As the front office assistant at Paragon Mills Elementary School, she helps with the YMCA after-school programs and has four sons of her own, all under the age of 14, who keep her busy.

“My favorite part of work is waking up and coming to see the kids every day,” Tucker said. “When I’m able to put a smile on their faces, I feel like I did everything I was supposed to do.”

She is even the go-to person for her friends on weekends when they need childcare—somehow never running short of energy or becoming tired of children. Not only is Tucker great with kids, she is first-aid and CPR-trained, skills she, unfortunately, had to use last year when a student was having a medical emergency.

“It was a scary situation but we were taught to keep calm,” Tucker said. “I was not going to give up doing CPR until that child was safe.”

And that is exactly what she did until the student regained consciousness.

“Thanks to Ms. Tucker’s initiative, perseverance and ‘never give up’ attitude a child’s life was saved,” said Dr. Joie Austria, former principal of Paragon Mills. “Her actions had a deep, positive impact on our school community as a whole. She has inspired many staff members to continue to be positive and to enthusiastically be willing to help others in times of need.”

Tucker has been at Paragon Mills for 13 years, more than half of which was through the YMCA after-school program. She has enjoyed getting to know families as well as the school staff who she admires for their focus on providing all students with a quality education. This year, Tucker wants to continue to problem solve for families any way she can and get more involved in the diverse community she loves.

“She is a positive, enthusiastic person who is always willing to lend a hand to anyone who needs her help – whether it be teachers, parents, or students,” Dr. Austria said. “She focuses on solutions and inspires trust.”

Rosebank Elementary Celebrates Completion of Renovations

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Rosebank Elementary School marked the completion of renovations with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 30. Students, staff and community members attended the event which included remarks by Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, Principal Kellee Akers and Mayor David Briley, a performance by the Rosebank Rhapsodies and a tour of the building renovations.

Rosebank School originally opened in 1954 and served students in grades 1-8 from the Rosebank neighborhood. The original school mascot was a rocket which reflected the national focus on space exploration. The school sustained tornado damage in 1998 and then a building addition was needed to meet student enrollment needs. The school underwent a major renovation beginning May 2016 with staff and students staying on-site during the renovation process.

In 2017, Rosebank transitioned into a STEAM magnet school with an emphasis on integrated technology and biological sciences. Our instructional practices promote whole child development with an emphasis on integrated content and technology; cultural competency; and the 4Cs of critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. Rosebank students enjoy an environment that represents 21st-century expectations and learning opportunities celebrating a 64-year history in the East Nashville neighborhood.

 

Metro Schools Lays Blueprint for Driving Literacy Achievement

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National literacy data indicates that 37 percent of fourth-grade students and 36 percent of eighth-grade students are not scoring at- or above-proficiency (source: 2017 NAEP). In Nashville, two out of three third graders aren’t reading on grade level by 3rd grade – an indicator which can pre-determine a student’s future successes many years into the future. These sobering statistics are the reasons literacy instruction is a priority in Metro Schools.

Enter Metro Nashville Public Schools’ Comprehensive Literacy Plan – the district’s blueprint to improving student achievement, specifically literacy. This plan was developed with input from multiple groups and is now being rolled-out district-wide. Review the entire plan from cover-to-cover here.

“This is an open invitation to our entire community to learn more about what literacy is, what it can and should look like within classrooms and how each of us can help develop our students,” said Chief Academic Officer Dr. Monique Felder, chair of the literacy advisory council. “We believe with a shared vision and equal dedication, our laser-focused literacy efforts will shift student achievement.”

The literacy plan is built on the foundation of advanced literacy, which emphasizes critical thinking, knowledge building and communication to provide students with skills that increase their access to opportunities and foster a lifelong interest in reading and writing. Through a collection of seven hallmarks, educators, families and community members alike are encouraged to help students build the skills they need to tap into academic opportunities.

Literacy goes beyond reading and writing. A strategic, interdisciplinary approach to advanced literacy works to encourage knowledge building across all content instruction, a sentiment that Dr. Paula Pendergrass, an advanced academics resource teacher, echoed.

“Literacy is the foundation that connects all disciplines of study,” said Pendergrass. “It connects reading to mathematics, mathematics to science, science to the arts, etc. Most importantly, it has the power to open doors of opportunities for all of our students.”

Over the next year, we’ll continue to unpack the district’s literacy efforts as we march towards the same goal: all students reading on grade level by 3rd grade by the year 2025.

Metro Schools Marks Opening of New School With Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

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Metro Schools celebrated the opening of its newest school, Eagle View Elementary School, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Aug. 16. Students, staff and community members attended the event which included remarks by Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph, Principal Shawn Lawrence and Councilwoman Jacobia Dowell, a performance by Cane Ridge High School’s string ensemble and a tour of the new school building.

Metro Schools is proud to welcome Eagle View as its newest addition to the Cane Ridge Cluster. Metro Schools began construction of this building in 2016 to meet the growing academic needs in Southeast Nashville.

Principal Shawn Lawrence, faculty and staff are looking forward to a student-centered school environment responsive to the most sensitive needs of all our students. Through this responsive learning environment, the school will be focused on ensuring that all students are middle-school ready and prepared for lifelong success. The vision of Eagle View is to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment that ensures all students receive high-quality, personalized instruction for academic, social and emotional growth to develop well-rounded life-long learners.

See pictures from the event below.

Rosebank Students Find a Personal Love for Reading This Summer

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“Ms. Koishor… are we going to do that camp this summer?!”

This was the question of the school year in Kelly Koishor’s class, a literacy teacher and camp leader at Rosebank Elementary School.

“My students’ excitement is really what made me want to host the camp again,” Koishor said. “Last summer I saw it give them a love of reading and writing that they develop on their own.”

The camp that the Rosebank students were eagerly anticipating was a grant-funded Read to be Ready Camp, a summer camp focused on instructional programs that provide rich reading and writing opportunities for rising first, second and third-grade students. The camp not only gives students access to a multitude of high-quality books at different levels and for different interests, each student also received seven books to add to their own personal libraries at home, continuing the theme of access to rich, high-quality texts even beyond the classroom.

The Read to be Ready camp provides academic enhancement in a more relaxed atmosphere—notably apparent by the indoor tents filled with blankets and pillows where students can be found enjoying books. Instead of a teacher dictating the specifics of the student’s day, they can discover the fun of learning at a more leisurely and independent pace and in a creative environment.

While the schedule on a day-to-day basis was similar with a personal reading session and a guided read-aloud session, each week was founded in a unique and exciting theme for students. One week students were immersed in animal week, complete with a guest ferret; the next – students focused on superheroes, where real-life heroes like firemen and police officers made special visits to the school. The weekly themes even traveled to outer space and students participated in a read-aloud with astronauts from space. Regardless of the weekly focus, the core foundation always remained the same: tap into high-quality reading and encourage imaginative writing through a wide variety of engaging and relevant reading.

“We hope this camp also builds community, self-esteem, tackles fears and teaches the kids how to treat each other,” Koishor said.

While the program is meant to provide a comfortable approach to summer learning, there is also an inherent focus on data-driven instruction and specific growth trends from the students. State-required assessments are given on the first and last weeks of camp to student achievement. Elementary schools can apply for the grant every September; this is the second year that Rosebank has received the funding.

No matter the improvements on the tests, it is clear from students at Rosebank, Read to be Ready has helped students find a love for reading that benefits all of their academic success when the new school year begins.

#MNPSVoices: Charlene Comer, Program Assistant

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Charlene Comer, with the Department of Exceptional Education, was recently recognized for her 30 years of service with Metro Nashville Public Schools. She came to the district in 1987 as a part-time secretary and has been dedicated to serving families and children with special needs.

After a brief layoff in 1990, she used those six months to care for family before returning to work back to the Department of Exceptional Education.

“The layoff was a blessing because I was able to be a caregiver to my aunt, who had been diagnosed with cancer,” she said. “My husband and I took her to her chemotherapy appointments. It really worked out because I was able to keep my new grandson, too.”

Her passion for helping special needs students started with her nephew, John, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. He is now 60 years old.

“He thrived, and defied the odds despite a school system that offered little to no services at that point in time,” Comer said. “He has been my inspiration.

“Through the years I have seen a lot of good changes that have positively impacted families, including more services in local schools of zone,” she said. “We have an Autism team and CBT programs that work to help develop social skills and gain job experience. MNPS serves approximately 10,000 children through the Department of Exceptional Education.”

Comer contributes her longevity with MNPS to great leaders. “I have worked for six directors and several coordinators. I can’t emphasize enough how blessed I am to work with the people I have worked with these last 30 years.”

Preventing the summer slide at Jere Baxter

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Those who visit Jere Baxter Middle School on a summer day will find a full parking lot and a hustle-and-bustle similar to a regular school day. The school is one of many host locations across the district for MNPS summer camps and programs. Jere Baxter alone holds three different camps inside—a Teach for America Program, an English Learner (EL) camp and a Discovery STEAM camp.

Each morning all students at the location take time to eat free breakfast together in the cafeteria. Students who live in the cluster are also provided free transportation to and from the location— an important option for families. From there, students go into a block schedule similar to a regular school day. In the EL camps, students spend time in English, lunch and math. The participating students speak six different languages but they all share the common goal of learning a new language together.

“I had a student who had become afraid of coming to school, after summer school that all changed,” said Hannah Rice, EL teacher and camp leader. “Not only did the smaller class size and more personal one-on-one time help, it also made these students more comfortable because of their shared experiences.”

Along with social gains, participants are tested at the beginning of camp and at the end to measure specific academic growth. Last year Rice said the Text Level Assessment (TLA) growth was significant and they expect the same this year. Even when students test similarly at the end of the program, they are maintaining levels of improvement and are provided a chance to practice English in a more relaxed atmosphere.

MNPS partner, Teach for America (TFA), is working with elementary and middle school students in credit recovery, remediation and academic enrichment in a similar personalized learning environment.

“It is amazing to see kids getting those levels of individual support—you see a lot of joy in these classrooms,” said Megan Lemming, managing director for pre-service training at Teach for America.

The TFA program also provides pre- and post-tests which showed two months of reading growth in the four weeks of instruction last year. The elementary and middle curriculum is heavily literacy and math-focused with differentiated reading groups, a process through which teachers enhance learning by matching student characteristics to instruction and assessment and through guided reading. At the high school level, 95 percent of students received credit recovery—enabling students to recover course credits lost during the school year to get back on track for grade–level advancement or graduation. TFA and the EL camp both expect similarly impressive results this year.

No matter the subject or purpose of MNPS summer programs and camps, the goal is to help keep students engaged and prevent summer learning loss. In addition, summer programs keep students fed and away from other potentially harmful activities when presented with idle time.

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