Underfunding and underperformance are two of the biggest issues facing the Metro Nashville school district.
In 2012, the district had just six priority schools — schools in the bottom 5% in the state for one or more of the areas measured. As of this year, the district has more than 20.
So administrators have introduced a proposal to merge schools, which they say will address both issues. But parents are questioning whether the district is making the right choice in fulfilling the needs of students.
Sonya Thomas of Nashville P.R.O.P.E.L., a parent and grandparent network with a focus on priority schools, says consolidations aren’t anything new. Thomas says she’s not worried about the possibility of buildings being closed, but is concerned about the plan to address underperformance if students are consolidated.
She agrees that failing schools shouldn’t be open, but says the proposal is a temporary solution that fails to address the larger issue of why these schools are under-enrolled to begin with.
“Nobody wants to send their child to a failing factory … Parents are hip to the fact that their children are not reading on grade level,” said Thomas. “They’re comparing their pupils to pupils in other districts and are like, ‘Wow, my child is just as genius as these children, but this is what I’m getting.’”
But Ryan Latimer, the district’s boundary planning and enrollment forecasting director, says under-enrollment is the result of outside issues. Enrollment began to decline during the 2015-2016 school year, he says — just after the recession, and around the time the district began seeing fewer families.
“Across the country, people are having children later in their life or they’re not having children at all,” said Latimer, during an online community meeting. “A lot of districts are seeing decline in their enrollment due to just the birthrate going down.”
Board members in support of the proposal say they’ve received a fair share of criticism during the past week, as parents in the Whites Creek cluster have voiced their concerns and organized a petition.
Whites Creek cluster students will lose Robert E. Lillard Elementary School and Joelton Middle School if the board approves the proposal. Some parents and community members are calling for the vote to be postponed until July.
“We weren’t asked for our opinions or suggestions,” said Luanne Boese, a Joelton Middle School parent. “[The district had] no input at all from families.”
School leaders say conversations about the possibility of a consolidation proposal have been ongoing for years. They held community meetings in 2017 and 2019. They also sent emails to parents before last week’s board meeting.
However, since the announcement, the district didn’t hold any additional community meetings until Monday, nearly a week after the official plan was brought to school board members.
City officials and two school board members did host a Zoom call for parents two days after the district’s proposal, but some parents felt they were being convinced to support the plan rather than being listened to.
But even as parents are asking for the plan to be reconsidered, the district says students would be at a loss if the board votes down the proposal.
“We would be very limited, once again, going into another school year [in] providing the necessary resources, tools and supports to ensure that we can meet all of our aggressive goals for all of our students.” said Adrienne Battle, the director of Metro schools, during a virtual community meeting.
Battle says the proposal to merge schools is a step in the right direction, and that it comes down to being able to meet the educational needs of students — although many parents aren’t confident that the plan will work.
“They’ve done this before,” said Thomas. “It has never fixed anything.”
The board is expected to vote on the consolidation proposal Tuesday.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect that the district held consolidation community meetings in both 2017 and 2019.