Recently, the city of Nashville has received high marks from many national outlets for our growing restaurant scene, evolving musical culture, revitalized neighborhoods and entrepreneurial business community. While all of this attention is flattering and key to continued growth, there’s another crucial area that deserves the spotlight, one that is arguably the most important factor in any thriving community: ensuring high-quality education for all of our children.
This has been a top priority for Mayor Dean and many others, and now is the time to acknowledge the tremendous efforts and progress the city has made with Metro Nashville Public Schools and its Academies of Nashville program. We, too, now have friends in high places singing our praises.
Tomorrow, President Obama will recognize the collaboration that Metro Schools and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce have facilitated for the past four years, which is some of the most transformational education reform in the country. Engaging members of the business and nonprofit community, the Chamber and MNPS created the Academies of Nashville. The nationally-recognized model creates smaller learning communities in our 12 zoned high schools, enabling students to learn through the lens of a career or academic theme.
For years people have heard “our schools are failing and we need your help.” The only ways we knew how were to throw money at the problem or to volunteer occasionally, impacting only a small numbers of students. The Academies model provides a way for business partners to work alongside those on the frontlines—our teachers and our school administrators—to make systemic change in our public schools. They support the Academies by providing knowledge, support and experiential learning opportunities for students, teachers and administrators.
This model is especially innovative because it utilizes business engagement at all levels. This shared accountability at all levels makes the Academies unique, providing every high school student access to these opportunities.
To date, more than 260 businesses have donated 107,097 volunteer hours, including in-kind donations nearing $5 million.
Since CMT partnered with McGavock High School four years ago, the school has met most of its achievement targets for three consecutive years – a feat that had not been achieved for 10 years prior to 2010-11. Students have gained 20 percentage points in Algebra I scores, putting it in the 94th percentile statewide for growth. It has also doubled the number of students who attend from outside of its zone
The real magic of the Academies structure is the community-building at its core. McGavock is our school. We share the challenges and successes with our teachers, administrators, fellow business partners and, most importantly, our students.
I invite the business community to learn more about how they too, can become involved with the Academies of Nashville. We still have quite a journey before Nashville will be featured on the most important “best of” list of all: ensuring high-quality education for all of our children. It’s the greatest return on investment you could ask for.
Lucia Folk is Senior Director, Public Affairs for CMT and serves as the Chair of the Academies of Nashville’s Arts, Media and Communication Partnership Council. CMT earned naming rights for the nationally accredited CMT Academy of Digital Design & Communication at McGavock High School in 2012, only one of five named Academies in the district.
This op-ed first appeared in The Tennessean on Jan. 31.