Listen and Learn with Dr. Shawn Joseph

Hunters Lane BandUpon arriving at Hunters Lane High School on Monday, you could feel the excitement around the night’s Listen and Learn session held by new Director of Schools, Dr. Shawn Joseph.

As the high school band played, community members, parents and students entered the building and were directed to write their questions and concerns on a series of boards propped up on easels. Organizers had written questions like “What should be the budget priorities of the district?” and “What should be Dr. Joseph’s top priority as he starts working in Metro Schools?” Attendees gathered around the boards and filled them with their comments. It was a great display of gathering community feedback and input.

The meeting itself took place in the school’s auditorium. After a brief introduction of Dr. Joseph and other staff members, Dr. Joseph addressed the crowd. He talked about the importance of “giving children all they need, when they need it.” He acknowledged that there are issues with low reading levels, lack of teacher diversity and access to an equitable education.

Hunters Lane HighDr. Joseph opened up the floor to questions and comments. Some of the main topics discussed included:

Resources for gifted students
The question of expanding academic magnet schools was asked more than once. Parents voiced concerns over lack of opportunities for gifted students. Dr. Joseph agreed. “Students of color can be gifted. Students that don’t have a lot of money can be gifted. Students that speak another language can be gifted.” He said that we must provide resources to challenge all students.

Sharing best practices between school types
Though the audience did not mention charter schools, Dr. Joseph made a point to mention that charter schools bring added value and choice to Nashville students and families. He encouraged collaboration and sharing of best practices between school types, and he challenged meeting attendees to focus on equitable education for children regardless of school type.

Support for students with special needs
A mother of a recently graduated student of Metro Schools inquired about Dr. Joseph’s plan to provide an inclusive, high-quality education to students with special needs. Advocating for families still in the system, she called for an education that would prepare students for life after high school.

“Do we have systems for parents to advocate for their students? You shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to get what your child needs,” Dr. Joseph wondered out loud.

He informed the crowd that forums focused on special education would be held in September. He said that the feedback collected would be used to provide appropriate supports to students with special needs.

Lack of resources
There were questions about a shortage of service providers to meet needs of students with individualized educational plans and about the sparsity of after school program choices. These questions highlighted a concern in the community about the lack of resources available to students and families. Dr. Joseph said that actions such as partnering with local nonprofits and government agencies to provide additional resources could help meet some of these needs. He also mentioned that Nashville is a member of the Council of Great City Schools, and that a team of professionals would thus be visiting to evaluate the current situation and provide suggestions and best practices.

Other concerns raised during the question and answer session were concerns about block scheduling, teacher turnaround, safety of students and teachers, and teacher diversity.

Another notable moment of the night was when Dr. Joseph cited a colleague’s successful attempt to turn around a priority school. He told the community members that the school leaders in that situation called together their stakeholders, listened to their concerns and adjusted based on the feedback collected. It appears that this is strategy that Dr. Joseph hopes to implement in Nashville.

With only 16 percent of children attending a high-quality school, urgency is needed more than ever. We thank Dr. Joseph for engaging the community in meaningful conversations around the future of our city’s students and schools.