Metro school board tackles system-wide diversity plan

Metro school board tackles system-wide diversity plan (Image 1)

The Metro Nashville Public School Board is taking a closer look at a diversity plan.

In a work session Tuesday night, board members were presented with a Commitment to Diversity draft for discussion.

The draft was presented by MNPS Director of Schools Jesse Register, Executive Director of the Division of Charter Schools Alan Coverstone, and Director of Student Assignment Chris Weber.

During the discussion, Dr. Register posed the question, “If one believes integration and diversity adds value to education, how does a district make the most of that diversity that's available?”

For years, desegregation or bussing created diversity for MNPS. In 1998, the district changed to a unitary system.

Today, the district is made up of 81,000 students, representing 118 countries and speaking 130 languages.

Board members agree the problem is no longer how to create diversity, but how to manage it.

Discussion for a diversity plan comes on the heels of a costly decision against Great Hearts Charter School.

The board defied a state order and rejected the school's application because of diversity concerns. As a result, the district was stripped of $3.4 million in state funding.

“Some of the reason we're here, quite frankly, is a knee-jerk reaction to what happened with the state, to Great Hearts, and to the way we acted,” said District 8 Representative Michael Hayes. “We can't make that rush the process.”

“We need to move forward on this thing as quickly as we possibly can. We do not have a year. We do not have six months,” argued School Board Chair Cheryl Mayes.

Board Member Anna Shepherd of District 4 added, “We need to get it right the next time. We need to absolutely get it right.”

All board members feel strongly that diversity adds value to education. The school system's Vision Statement reads, in part, “different perspectives and backgrounds form the cornerstone of our strong public education system.”

Discussion of a system-wide diversity plan began during a rezoning lawsuit last year. At the request of Dr. Register, a desegregation expert in the case helped put together a draft for discussion. What comes of the discussion will impact every school in the district.

“It's really about establishing a culture that we want to be recognized as that of MNPS.” said Sharon Gentry of District 1.

Some topics of discussion for a diversity plan include better management of school zoning, building locations, and even staffing patterns.

The next step is to create a team of educators and community members to gather more feedback on an overall plan.

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