The room was largely empty, but Director of Schools Jesse Register’s call to stop to the fighting over Nashville education was heard far and wide last night.
His message was two-fold: let’s bring charter schools more fully into the MNPS fold and let’s stop the assault on his leadership.
The message came as his chief rival on the Metro Nashville School Board, Will Pinkston, is beginning to call specifically to replace Register when his contract is up next summer. Pinkston has loudly attacked the superintendent for how he runs Metro Public Schools, ranging from how rezoning decisions are handled to his staff slow walking information to him and board members about charter school decisions.
But Register, select Metro Council members and a large swath of the charter school community are teaming up to fight back. At a special Metro Council Education Committee meeting Thursday night, Register began calling to “reset the conversation” around education in Nashville to one focused on improving education — namely using charter schools.
The announcement makes for interesting bedfellows given it was little more than a year ago that Register’s administration leaked numbers alleging charter schools dump poor-performing students back into traditional schools in the weeks and months before spring standardized tests.
A study out of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College this year rebutted that accusation, and found the practice is more rampant at traditional schools than chartered ones. A study out of Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College this year attempted to rebut that accusation. The study found students left their traditional schools at a higher rate than those who left their charter schools, but blames poverty as the cause of high mobility rates.
Charter school leaders have appeared to turn the other cheek, however. Following Register’s announcement, charter leaders — from financiers to school leaders — applauded the superintendent’s leadership to move the conversation forward.
“We are 100% behind Dr. Register and his team, and we are excited to support his leadership as he guides us through a new era of collaboration,” said Ravi Gupta, managing partner of RePublic Schools, a new charter school collaboration with schools in Nashville.
Gupta has also found himself on the opposite side of Pinkston, as have charter leaders across the city in fending off Pinkston's arguments that charter schools drain too much money from the rest of the public school system.
The charter school community is highly invested in this year’s school board elections, where a series of incumbents are facing off against parents of charter school students. Were those candidates to win election, Register’s move to bring charters better into the fold would play well among those board members.
Register’s second message Thursday night was to ask the community to change the conversation on the school board, which has led to personal battles that have become “mean and personal,” he said. The address was his most direct in dressing down the political skirmishes between him and Pinkston, but never mentioned the board member by name.
“When we take a step back and really think about it, the biggest losers in this kind of scorched earth campaign-style approach to our discussion about schools of choice are our children. I believe this type of behavior needs to stop and it needs to stop now,” Register said. Read his whole speech here.
It’s an opinion Education Committee Chairman and former school board member Steve Glover shares, and he says his own patience with the board — the entire board, he says — has grown thin.
“Until they get their act together and they understand what their mission is, I’m not giving them another penny right now,” he told Pith, pointing to the Council’s authority approving MNPS’ budget every spring. It’s a threat he said “will resonate deeply” with fellow members of the council.
“The board needs to be the board. That’s the problem right now. The board is not being the board. It’s being a bunch of people talking about their own personal agendas and it’s not looking after our children. And please quote me on that one,” he said. “And they can be pissed at me all that they want to. But let me tell you something, this board is so dysfunctional it’s not even funny.
“We have done nothing over the last two years but adult arguments. That’s it,” said Glover, who laid much of the blame on Pinkston, adding, “My God. Are we letting one board member now dictate what the whole city does?” He also points to Board Members Amy Frogge and Jill Speering, too, saying they have fueled some of the board consternation.
Not a single board member or candidate was in the Council chambers during Register’s address. According to emails obtained by Pith, Frogge told fellow board members she felt “betrayed as a board member” by Register’s remarks. A critic of charter schools, she said no one told her ahead of time that the meeting was on the books, and no one told her Register would give such an address until an hour before the meeting started.
“This event has really caused me to lose trust. I certainly don't want to stir up more drama, but I hope that we all can discuss this soon,” she said.