Poverty, lack of food, traumatic events.
These and many others are negative experiences that a large portion of Metro Nashville Public Schools' 85,300 students brings with them into the classroom every day.
Framed by the question of what students need to be successful in the classroom, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce in its annual education report card is throwing its collective influence behind a growing push for schools to provide students with social emotional learning.
SEL, as it is known, is a method to teach students the skills to regulate emotions and to provide them with positive relationships and goals. It takes a less punitive route toward student interactions and reinforces positive behavior.
"We need to emotionally help kids become responsible adults," said Dane Danielson, co-chair of the 2018 Chamber Report Card committee and Gould Turner Group education director. "We heard this from a principal, 'We teach students to learn math, you can teach a child to learn English, but if a child misbehaves, we punish them.'"
The chamber's focus bolsters efforts by other community groups, including Nashville Organized for Action and Hope. The community group has pushed for Nashville public schools to provide more social emotional learning for students and less punitive actions, especially for the district's youngest students and those experiencing trauma.
And Nashville Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has spoken often of its importance. He agreed with the chamber's focus.
“Our ability to accelerate achievement in the future is dependent on meeting the social and emotional learning needs of our students,” Joseph said. “We expect it, and the students deserve it.”
Urban League of Middle Tennessee President and CEO Clifton Harris, who also served as co-chair of the chamber's effort, said the goal of this year's report card was to put students first. It requires a community effort, Harris said.
"They also require vitally important training, support, and resources, financial and otherwise," Harris said.
One of the top recommendations includes pushing the school board to adopt a policy that ends out-of-school suspensions and expulsions for students pre-k through 4th grade. It is a policy recommendation that is being championed by NOAH.
The chamber's recommendation would also further the district's work under PASSAGE, which stands for Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity. It is a district and community initiative developed in 2014 to address school discipline issues.
PASSAGE focuses on racial disparity in punishment and works to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline — a well-documented national trend where children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
Last year, 100 percent of elementary school students expelled and two-thirds of those arrested while in school last year were black males, according to numbers compiled by the Davidson Country Juvenile Court.
Closing in on almost 30 years, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce releases a yearly report card focused on Nashville schools and how they can improve. This year, the report card lists five recommendations.
The recommendations are selected by a committee of area business leaders, who also compile commendations and concerns about the school district's work.
The recommendations this year focus on ways to promote social emotional learning within the district, Harris said, but also seek to build support among teachers and the community. The recommendations are:
- The Nashville public schools board should enact, except in the worst cases, a policy that ends out-of-school suspensions, expulsions, or arrests in pre-k through 4th grade.
- The district should create a program that identifies and develops principal mentors that can help emphasize and help establish a less punitive school culture, as well as foster community resources to enhance SEL efforts and academic achievement.
- The district should require every school to identify one peer-elected teacher to lead SEL efforts. The teacher would support and train other teachers, as well as provide teacher feedback and communicate directly with administrators.
- The district, along with community partners, should conduct a needs assessment of the district's four clusters of schools that align resources for students and families.
- The Mayor’s Office should create a team of school district, Metro government, and business and nonprofit representatives to consider the impact of the city’s growth on the city's youngest Nashvillians. The committee would specifically focus on gentrification, displacement and how services to address the issues serve families with children.
Positive marks for Nashville public schools
- The district was commended for its pioneering efforts in SEL work. The district has been recognized as a national leader for its work in several schools.
- The chamber highlighted Nashville public schools' willingness to partner with outside community groups to better schools.
- The committee also recognized the district's initiatives to pay for advanced academics tests such as Advanced Placement and industry certifications.
- The chamber group also commended the district for the creation of a scorecard that is more transparent and accessible in how it tracks district and school performance.
- And Nashville public schools leadership was praised for using tests that benchmark student learning against the rest of the nation.