Dr. Joseph’s End of Year Message to Employees


Dear Metro Schools’ Employees,

What a year it has been and what an honor it has been to spend it with you.

Together this year, we have accomplished so much – taking great strides in improving literacy, ensuring equitable access to programs, providing more services and supports for all students, improving the quality of our Pre-K programs, transforming middle schools through STEAM-based teaching and learning and working to offer additional professional development, compensation and voice for our employees.

You have helped steer the focus back to our highest priority: our students. Every single one of us is focused on our students, their achievement and helping them define and achieve their limitless possibility.

And it shows.

  • Our students are not just Exceeding Great Expectations, they’re exceeding national averages. All students in grades 2-8 surpassed the national average for growth for reading and math, excluding fifth grade math. Our eighth graders (reading) and second graders (math), showed results better than the national average.
  • We know smart kids can live in any zip code – and this year, our increased focus on access to advanced academics led to more than 13,000 students taking advanced academic exams and certifications and more than 1,000 new students taking the ACT, with ACT scores improving among students who face traditional barriers to success.
  • We have placed an inherent focus on STEAM in middle school – an approach to teaching and learning that will help to develop soft skills employers are looking for: communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, while providing students with an engaging classroom experience during a pivotal time in their educational journey.
  • We secured more than $15 million in grant funding to create five new STEAM magnet schools at the elementary level. Students can’t be what they can’t see and this grant will help Metro Schools expose our youngest learners to the possibilities the world presents.
  • Our community partners are standing with us and are equally as committed to a strong public education for every single student in Nashville. This year, with the partnership of the Nashville Public Education Foundation, Nashville committed to liberating all of our students and supporting our literacy work.

Student achievement is critical – and obviously what we strive for –  but none of this work would be possible without you and the tireless hours you pour into our students’ lives each and every day.

Every day, you model excellence for our students. Our students must overcome unique obstacles and you support them not just through the educational lessons, but also through the love, care and respect you show to each student. This district – and the work that we do – would not be possible without the work that you do in support of your colleagues and our students.

To those of you who will enjoy a few weeks away from work, I hope you can take this time for a rejuvenating break – one that is certainly well-deserved. Take time to reflect on the successes of this year as you begin to prepare for the next.

Your work and commitment to our district is the most important and valuable asset we have. All of the add-ons in the world can’t compare to the value you bring to our organization.

I thank each of you for your dedication to your craft and to our students’ futures, and look forward to picking right back up where we have left off this August.

Thank you for all you do,


#MNPSco2018: Lauren Burgess, MLK

Lauren Burgess

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou

This quote is used to describe Martin Luther King Jr. High School senior Lauren Burgess, recognized as a quiet and unassuming student who achieved many accomplishments in her time in Metro Schools. Burgess served as a member of the Beta Club and National Honor Society and was also a Student Ambassador, cheerleader, band member, MLK Freshman Orientation Leader and a participant in many Parent University student panels. The panels discussed the importance of having school counselors available to help students through difficult times. Burgess achieved these tasks all while dealing with her own difficult times—a close family member’s struggle with mental health. Burgess credits her unwavering focus on school during those difficult times to her former counselor, Seliene Bignall. While her journey to get to this point has not been an easy one, she has faced the challenges head-on and put forth the effort to finish strong.

“As Lauren transitions into her new life’s journey, her wings have been made strong by the lasting friendships, the lessons learned, the care given by many of her teachers and counselors, the opportunities afforded to her by Lake Providence Missionary Baptist Church, the everlasting love and support of her family and delight in the beauty of the butterfly,” an individual close to the student said.

Burgess will attend the University of Tennessee, Knoxville this fall, majoring in Sociology, with a concentration in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“I want to make a difference in our society by helping to better understand crime as a social phenomenon – understanding the causes of crime, different types of crime, and their consequences to our society,” Burgess said.

Good luck and congratulations on all of your success!

#MNPSVoices: Annie Pugh, Senior Secretary


Ms. Annie Pugh, affectionately known around Metro Nashville Public Schools’ district as Ms. Annie, is a calm, quiet, gentle spirit. She consistently provides words of wisdom to those in need and is readily available to offer a big hug to anyone, when needed.

A native of Chattanooga Tennessee, Pugh came to Nashville in 1964 as a student at Tennessee State University to pursue a degree in early childhood education. She didn’t stay that course long adding that she “wanted to do something else.”

With a new focus in mind, she began to pursue a career in healthcare administration. Pugh worked at a local hospital in Nashville for 32 years with the first 15 years spent in a management position.

This particular field of work was rewarding to Pugh because in addition to her everyday duties, she was allowed to work alongside the hospital’s Information Technology department to help build a new patient care system that would eventually roll-out. “I did everything from budgets and payroll to even ordering hospital furniture,” she said.

After a long-standing career with the hospital, Pugh’s position was eliminated causing her transition to Metro Schools. Her 16-year career in MNPS started in the Human Resources department as a substitute employee. Shortly thereafter, she landed a job as a senior secretary to then-Director of Schools, Dr. Pedro Garcia. Today, Pugh is serving under her third director of schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph and supporting the executive office manager. Although she serves in the same position, her duties have somewhat shifted. Technology at MNPS has evolved over the years too, however, Pugh has adapted well to the new processes.

“Things have changed a lot since I started here,” she said. “I remember when I had to log in every single piece of mail that came into the office and file it as well. Having to learn a new computer system is totally different than when I started here years ago.”

She is grateful for the experiences and the skills she has developed over the years in her past role at the hospital, and believes it prepared her to carry out her day-to-day activities in her current role.

“I have become a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ and actually a master a few of them,” Pugh laughed.

One role Pugh has definitely mastered is that of grandparent. She and her college sweetheart-turned-husband of 50 years are proud to have six grandsons and one granddaughter.

When asked about her future goals she said, “I look forward to staying healthy and happy. As for my work goals, I just want to continue to support our director of schools, our children and parents to the best of my ability.”

Pugh has plans to retire but those plans are a little further down the road. As for now, she will continue serving the MNPS community and enjoying some of her favorite pastimes, like reading, quilting and cooking. Until then, she will continue to walk the halls of the Central Office ready and willing to offer a smile and a big hug.

“I don’t want to retire and go home and do nothing,” she said. “[But when I do] I look forward to retiring and traveling the world.”

#MNPSco2018: Cin Tuang, The Academy at Old Cockrill

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Cin Tuang moved from Burma to the United States seven years ago with his family, and since then he has exemplified exactly what the American dream is all about.

As an English Language Learner, Tuang has worked tirelessly during his time in MNPS to improve his skills in reading and writing and has excelled in the area of math, impressing many of his teachers.

“I met Cin Tuang in January,” said Judith Meeker, one of Tuang’s teachers. “He had just begun at The Academy at Old Cockrill and was a hard-working English Language student with a great sense of humor. I watched him complete class after class. Soon, it looked like Cin would be able to finish and make the May graduation.”

Meeker credits Tuang’s challenging personal experiences as the reason for his persistent and hard-working spirit.

“[At the age of eight], he and his brother stayed in Burma while his parents went on to Kuala Lumpur to work and save money to get the family to America,” said Meeker. “Cin worked at a mechanic shop cleaning up while his little brother sat outside waiting for his shift to over. They lived nearby in a cabin. A kind customer followed them home and gave them a couch to sleep on. When his parents earned enough money, they contacted relatives to bring the children to Kuala Lumpur and then on to America.”

Tuang has also dealt with personal challenges since moving to the United States. His mother has been battling lymphoma and has frequently been in and out of the hospital. He takes turns with his father and brother sleeping at the hospital, and when his mother is home he stays up late caring for her.

Today, May 22, Tuang will graduate from The Academy at Old Cockrill. He plans to attend Nashville State where he will be studying mechatronics.

Congratulations to this inspiring student on achieving his dreams!

#MNPSco2018: Dr. Joseph’s letter to the Class of 2018


I look forward to this season every year.

This is the epitome of what all of us at Metro Nashville Public Schools work for – seeing you, our students, walk across that stage. A powerful symbol of one chapter ending – and yet your life is just beginning.

While we work hard to support you, we know that you are the ones who put in 13 years of hard and intentional work to make it to this moment. I know it was not always easy.  You have demonstrated perseverance, scholarship, and a passion for life to make it to this special moment.

With your diploma in hand, you are one step closer to becoming who you are meant to be – a teacher, a doctor, a business leader, a scientist, an artist, an electrician, or anything you want to be – and it is my hope we have given you the tools you need to find success down whatever path you choose to take. Life is about service and sharing your talents with the world. Tap into your innate possibilities. If you love what you are doing, you will always have success.

Before you go, don’t forget to thank those who helped you get to this moment. I’ve been fortunate enough to have many great experiences in my life because I had access to a great education and great teachers who gave me a chance. Metro Schools focuses on those same values. During your time at MNPS, your teachers have loved you into greatness which you will appreciate more and more with each passing year.

I believe in you and your limitless futures, and I know our staff believes in you, too. I hope that the lessons you’ve learned and the relationships you’ve developed during your time at MNPS will carry on with you through each chapter of your own life’s story.

Congratulations on this incredible milestone – this truly is only just the beginning.

Best of luck,
Dr. Joseph

#MNPSco2018: Metro Schools student wins National Merit scholarship


Congratulations to Ramey Hulse, a senior at Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School, for receiving a corporate-sponsored National Merit Scholarship.

Hulse is one of more than 1,000 winners of National Merit Scholarships financed by corporations, company foundations and other business organizations. Corporate sponsors provide scholarships to students who are children of their employees, residents of communities the company serves or who plan to pursue college majors or careers the sponsor wishes to encourage.

Most of these awards are renewable for up to four years of college undergraduate study and provide annual stipends that range from $500 and $10,000 annually.

Hulse received the National Merit James E. Casey Scholarship, which is funded by the UPS Foundation. She plans to study archaeology in college.

Congratulations on this impressive achievement!

#MNPSVoices: Shelley Archuleta Smith, Assistant Principal

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As the school year comes to a close, educators across the nation are being recognized for their outstanding work over this year. Metro Nashville Public Schools is proud to have many employees who are being honored with awards and accolades for their challenging work. One of these exceptional individuals is Shelley Archuleta Smith, assistant principal at Andrew Jackson Elementary.

Smith was recently named 2017-2018 National Outstanding Assistant Principal by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP). This national award recognizes the outstanding leadership of assistant principals at the elementary and middle school level. Smith is the first assistant principal in Tennessee to ever receive this award.

“It is an honor to receive this recognition for the state of Tennessee,” Smith said. “This would not have been possible without the guidance and support from my colleagues, teachers, students, parents and my family.”

Smith is 22-year veteran of MNPS joining the team as an English Language (EL) teacher at Cameron Middle School. Since that time, she has held a variety of positions including EL specialist, elementary English Language Development (ELD) curriculum coordinator and literacy coach. In 2015, she transitioned into administration as an assistant principal at Glenview Elementary before connecting with Andrew Jackson Elementary in her current role.

For many, receiving an award like this often sparks career reflection, and Smith has pinpointed her “defining moment” so far.

“I realized that by working as an administrator I have the opportunity to impact more than just my individual classroom,” she said. “My philosophy on what makes a school successful is, as an administrator, you need to be an instructional leader. You are there to provide resources for the teachers so they are successful which in turn benefits the students. As the school leader, I want to provide leadership opportunities for teachers and students.”

Smith has had a long career working in various roles as an educator. Throughout those years, there is one thing that has remained the same: she loves being involved in students’ lives.

“My favorite part of the job is building relationships with the students and the teachers,” Smith said. “I enjoy getting to know them as individuals and finding ways to help them be successful in all aspects of their lives.”

#MNPSco2018: Cassidy Martin and Audria Thompson, Nashville Big Picture High School

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Nashville Big Picture High School does exactly what its name implies – helps students see the ‘big picture’ as they prepare for college, career and life. During this year’s high school graduation season, two Big Picture seniors have already leaped ahead acquiring valuable industry certifications that bring them one step closer to achieving their future goals.

Cassidy Martin and Audria Thompson are among Nashville Big Picture’s brightest stars. Both have plans to attend college once they graduate May 21 and will take the personalized and project-based learning exposure they received over the past four years with them. Each student has accumulated several college credits in early childhood education from the Tennessee College of Applied Technology in Nashville.

“It was a lot of work – a lot of homework, but the school allows for a lot of independence to discover where you want to go,” said Martin, who also served as Nashville’s Youth Poet Laureate in 2016.

Martin said she is still weighing her college options but will immediately put her certification to work this summer working at a childcare facility. The 18-year-old said she looks forward to ultimately building a career in social work, specifically working with adults and teaching them how to work with children.

“This [early childhood education] certification has already gained me a job,” Martin said. “It [TCAT] was a wonderful experience and awesome preparation for the future things we want to do.”

For Thompson, her sights are set on Austin Peay State University in Clarksville where she plans to continue her track in education with an emphasis on working with special needs students.

“I did not know half the things I needed to know about working with young children and how they develop before going to TCAT,” said Thompson, who aspires to one day open a center to support special needs children. “I felt like I was getting where I needed to be when I graduated from there.”

Nashville Big Picture High School has gained a solid reputation of correlating academics and real-world experiences. The school is recognized as a national model for using methods such as workshops, project exhibitions, internships, field trips and community engagement to impact learning experiences. Students spend three days engaged in instructional time and research and two days devoted to learning through actual internship opportunities.

Dr. Brenda Diaz, executive principal of Nashville Big Picture, said the school has the lowest mobility rate among any high school in Nashville, and 100 percent of students graduate and receive college acceptance.

“Big Picture students are highly committed and balance rigorous work and advanced curriculum, including dual enrollment opportunities,” Diaz said.

Additionally, each graduating senior is required to complete a capstone project gathering information, research and preparing a presentation to teachers, fellow students, family members and community partners. Domestic violence and foster care awareness were Martin’s and Thompson’s topics, respectively.

“Audra is very driven and self-motivated, and Cassidy’s creativity and passion shines through her poetry,” Diaz said. “I am confident both of them will accomplish great things.”

TPAC honors Gower Elementary teacher as 2018 Teacher of the Year

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Miya Robertson, a drama teacher at Gower Elementary School, is Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s 2018 Teacher of the Year, an annual award honoring an educator who uses the arts to inspire learning, build community and foster excellence in teaching.

Involved with TPAC’s comprehensive education programs, Robertson collaborates with TPAC teaching artists in her classroom, brings her students to performances at the arts center and participates in the nonprofit’s professional development programs.

Now in its 24th year, the TPAC Teacher of the Year Award includes a $1,000 grant for the recipient’s school.

The coordinator for an after-school musical theatre training program at Gower, Robertson produces a musical production and five grade-level productions each year. Also, she served as the faculty lead for TPAC’s Disney Musicals in Schools program for three years, after Gower was one of the Metro Nashville Public Schools selected for the program.

Mia Robertson with Students

Robertson says she has “charged herself” with creating curriculum and lesson plans that enhance literacy skills in writing, speaking, reading, listening and language, as well as supporting the work of teachers in general education and inclusion classes.

“Within any given drama lesson, students engage in reading, active listening and speaking skills. They do research on a variety of topics which support learning in history, social studies and other subjects,” Robertson said. “They create original works of creative writing, evaluate the writing of their peers and analyze scripts. These kinds of activities allow students to be self-guided in their learning, practice communication skills and provide opportunities to collaborate and think critically – skills that will serve them outside of the classroom and in the future.

“Each school year brings different challenges and academic needs for both educators and students from various walks of life,” she said. “So, each year I consult with teachers to get a personal understanding of the academic skills that need to be addressed by each grade level and specific classrooms.”

Born in Memphis, Robertson graduated from North Side High School in Jackson, Tenn. She received a bachelor’s degree in Speech Communication and Theatre from Tennessee State University and a master’s degree in Arts in Education from Union University.

#MNPSVoices: Ryan Yarnell, Head Chef


Metro Nashville Public School’s new Head Chef, Ryan Yarnell, is the architect behind the balanced meals served in the districts’ school café’s. Yarnell comes from a world of trendy Nashville restaurants in which he helped open the Nashville Sounds Stadium Bandbox restaurant as well as Pinewood Social, a restaurant and bowling concept near downtown. Now, his goal is mixing up healthy and fun foods for MNPS students.

“I loved working in restaurants but it did not have the same lasting effect as this job,” Yarnell said. “It may put a smile on a customer’s face temporarily but the students’ joy carries forward. We can see how it can change their day, their week or their school year.”

Yarnell does not treat his creations as a one-time meal but as a piece in the bigger picture of nutrition in schools. He hopes that by serving whole and healthy foods, students will gain healthy eating habits for life. With each menu item, he works with the MNPS Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) Jessica Thomas and follows national guidelines for school nutrition to create well-rounded meals.

“It’s no secret we are battling a lot of health concerns as a nation; and it starts with learning good food habits from a young age,” Yarnell said. “If we can teach our youth now, we can make a difference in the next generation’s health.”

MNPS’s Nutrition Department also keeps in mind the ethnic diversity of the district. Yarnell tries to create familiar food for all children while also introducing new flavors. He often sits with students at school cafés to learn about the sauces and flavors they cherish at home.

“When I hear that something I made reminds them of their family’s cooking, it tells me I’m doing something right,” Yarnell said. “I try to make comfort foods for every child in our schools.”

The feedback the Nutrition Department receives helps to influence and allows for adjustments in school menus with Yarnell and his team doing extensive testing to make sure meals are appealing to students. The most recent flavor tested was a Philly cheesesteak pretzel roll which became an unsurprising success. Another focus in MNPS kitchens is to lower the amount of sodium used in foods by crafting recipes that use natural flavorings like onions, garlic or other whole seasonings. School kitchens are no longer use canned or pre-prepared foods, but are replicating the prep work of restaurants. In the future, Yarnell hopes to create an internal YouTube channel for staff members to watch cooking videos to learn how to prepare the recipes.

During MNPS Wellness Week and throughout the year, Yarnell encourages families to try new healthy foods with their kids.

“Don’t be afraid to try something new with your child,” Yarnell said. “Studies have shown that on average it takes seven tries before their palate gets used the taste.”

For food inspiration and a peek into MNPS school lunches follow @mnpschefryan on Twitter and Instagram. Learn more about MNPS Wellness Week here.

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