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 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.
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 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.
“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.
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.”
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.
Although somewhat shy and probably one of the most unassuming members of the Metro Nashville Public Schools’ team, Donetia Reid, one of four internal auditors for MNPS, has a smile that can light up any room. She serves in a key supporting role in the school district and proudly supports the Southeast Quadrant.
Before moving up the ranks, Reid took a path similar to other Central Office employees – working in schools.
“My first position was at Dalewood Elementary School as a general assistant,” Reid said. “I’m still very much in touch with the Dalewood Elementary family. We just celebrated our 17-year staff reunion.”
A few years later, Reid would progress to become the secretary/bookkeeper at Dalewood Middle, Gateway Elementary and Stratton Elementary Schools before transitioning to a training specialist position in 2008 in the internal audit department. As a training specialist, she was tasked with training a designated portion of school bookkeepers throughout the school district.
“Training bookkeepers was my original passion for coming to the Central Office,” Reid said.
Reid has been an internal auditor for the past six years and her day-to-day tasks consist of guiding school bookkeepers and principals on the proper use of student activity funds as outlined by the Tennessee Department of Education and Comptroller’s Office. In addition, Reid conducts annual student activity audits and reports any findings schools may have.
“It’s important for me to educate bookkeepers and principals on the proper use of funds that parents and taxpayers provide to support our students,” she said.
Reid is approaching her 26th year of service to the district this August and said she is grateful for the opportunities she has been given to advance her career in MNPS.
“I’ve had a lot of encouragement around me and it seems to have worked out in my favor,” she said, adding that although she can see retirement at the end of the tunnel she is not quite ready to turn in her adding machine just yet.
“I want to continue to focus on supporting bookkeepers, principals and MNPS’ top priority – our students,” Reid said.
Metro Nashville Public Schools employees work tirelessly every day to make sure students are succeeding in the classroom – but what happens when the school day is over? That’s where Jennifer Bell steps in.
Bell, director of extended learning programs, leads the charge for all programming that falls outside of the school day – from before and aftercare to summer camps. She believes these programs are just as crucial to a student’s growth and development as their classroom experience.
“Through extended learning programs, we can take a creative yet strategic approach to focus on the whole child,” Bell said. “Extended learning programs give students an opportunity to be in a safe environment during the time of day in which neighborhood crime rates are up. We can reinforce academic standards through hands-on, experiential learning, develop students’ interests and career pathways, and provide healthy resources to support the student.”
Bell joined the district in 2003 as a teacher at Glencliff High School. In her first year of teaching, she would make weekly visits to see her brother who was incarcerated at the time. During one of those visits, Bell experienced a moment she said changed her career.
“My brother is brilliant and amazing but he never connected to school, built relationships with teachers, nor discovered a path that influenced him as much as the peer pressure did,” Bell said. “[One day] while chatting, I will never forget him saying, ‘Don’t forget about the kids like me.’ It was then that I realized the importance of developing relationships, peaking students’ interests and thinking outside-of-the-box when it came to instruction. I realized that no matter a student’s academic ability or home life, I could support them in reaching their goals [and] support them in changing their circumstances.”
After teaching for a couple years, Bell decided to take a break from education and left the district. This hiatus helped shape her into the educator she is today.
“Life is about experience,” Bell said. “It’s the best way to learn from mistakes, overcome obstacles, develop new dreams and develop into your best self. I learned this about myself during that time and now have the skills to continue to explore and enjoy the adventure. In my current role, I view extended learning as an experience, and it is my hope that students will have the experiences they need to develop their best selves.”
When Bell returned to the district in 2015, she brought with her a renewed vision and sense of purpose in her career. Her time spent working in and outside of public education has led to some important advice that she shares with her fellow educators.
“Education is and should always be fun for both students and educators,” Bell said. “When we are having fun, we are creative, ambitious, collaborative and so much more. It is when we are having fun, we truly do great things.”
Hay Hay, Lacy and Hattie Pearl are not students at Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center, but they do call the school home. These three inhabitants are chickens that play an important role in interacting with the school’s Pre-K students to help the young scientists learn through nature.
The students also benefit from the expertise of Farmer Mike, a local farmer who volunteers at the center and helped the school build the chicken coop. Lessons developed around the animals have created excitement among the students with the hands-on learning experiences that the hens bring to the classrooms. Principal Jessica Hardin, who has always been an animal lover, said she never expected her career would involve caring for farm animals but she has found a new soft spot for chickens.
“The students do all types of assignments with the chickens—paint, journal and learn about caring for the animals,” Hardin said. “They have even made deviled eggs—which they surprisingly loved!”
The type of learning happening at the Ivanetta H. Davis Early Learning Center provides basic foundations in STEAM curriculum – relating to science to writing to art – and connecting all aspects and subjects within the academic experience. In addition, the center nourishes a garden where students learn important lessons on tending to even the smallest living things. Parents also reap the rewards of the classroom garden by having access to any extra fruits and vegetables not being used in the center’s café.
Hardin said the center has seen success in not only helping students find the connection between all lessons but addressing chronic absenteeism. From 2016 to 2018, attendance increased by 23 percent, a data point now just behind the district’s average. Students are recognized monthly for perfect attendance and, a few times a year, celebrations are held in which students can enjoy an evening of fun, snacks and a movie. This also encourages parents to focus on their child’s attendance because the timing of the celebration provides the incentive of evening childcare.
“These events reward students, but also importantly rewards parents,” Hardin said. “We have had success by being really clear on expectations and celebrating when those expectations are met.”
Notable strides are also being addressed in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practices and training. The center’s teachers are trained in strategies that help children in times of crisis to identify and work through their emotions. Next year, Hardin hopes to train all of her teachers and support staff in prevention and mitigation of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
“There has been amazing SEL work happening here to prepare our kids for kindergarten,” Hardin said. “We are working to help them better express their needs, wants, concerns and fears using their words.”