This week’s guest is North Nashville educator, Elois Freeman. Elois is direct, authentic, and carries a wisdom that can only be acquired through a long and meaningful life. Elois grew up going to segregated schools in North Nashville and went on to graduate from Fisk University in 1970. After graduation, Elois left Nashville to teach school in different locations around the country. Since returning to Nashville, Elois has been deeply involved in education activism work.

Elois and I met at a book discussion of Making the Unequal Metropolis by Dr. Ansley Erickson. I am so glad that she agreed to come on the podcast to talk about her first hand accounts that correspond to the overarching account that Dr. Erickson presents in the book. In our conversation, we discuss the strong community ties in the North Nashville community, how the interstate construction in the 1960’s intentionally divided and damaged Jefferson Street (where Elois’ family still resides today), whether or not desegregation should be a current goal for Metro Nashville Public Schools, and why data is the one topic that Elois will not discuss.

For more context about North Nashville, check out Steven Hale’s recent Nashville Scene piece, History Repeats Itself in North Nashville.

“If the story of the last 60 years was this perpetual, creative, varied pursuit of economic growth, well, the city got it, clearly… but it’s also clear that that growth doesn’t inherently create equity. It doesn’t close wealth gaps, it doesn’t produce of itself… equally distributed opportunity. In some ways you have an economically strong and growing metropolis. What a wonderful position to be in to really ask what it would mean to try to shape that city in favor of greater equity.” -Dr. Ansley T. Erickson

I was thrilled to get to interview Dr. Ansley T. Erickson, author of Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Desegregation and its Limits. Ansley is an Associate Professor of History and Education at Teachers College Columbia University, and I think her book should be required reading for anyone interested in how politics, policy, housing, power, and privilege shaped Nashville’s schools.

In the interview, we discuss the early days of desegregation in Nashville, how local, state, and federal policies shaped our unequal landscape, vocational education, misconceptions about busing, and much more.

Mentioned in this episode:

Dr. Mary Crnobori is the trauma-informed coordinator for Metro Nashville Public Schools and she is doing incredibly important work to raise awareness about trauma-informed practices and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

Common ACEs are violence in the home, divorce, a parent with mental illness or substance abuse problems, abuse or neglect, or a parent who is incarcerated. Not to mention the skyrocketing rate of childhood poverty in Nashville. While poverty rates have gone down citywide, as of 2016, childhood poverty is currently above 60 percent in 4 council districts

When I told someone I was doing this episode, he said “Isn’t aces just kind of a buzz word at this point? Don’t we already know this stuff?

I thought that was really interesting point, and I think that he’s probably not the only one who has this misconception. What we commonly hear about ACEs is that a high ace score is correlated with poor educational outcomes, behavior issues, and even health problems. 

The part of the conversation that I feel like is often left out is that there are concrete actions that we can take to mitigate the effect of ACEs. Edutopia recently did a series on how Fall-Hamilton Elementary, MNPS’s trauma-informed pilot school, is doing this important work. 

I hope after listening to this episode, you will know more about what trauma informed schools look like, the importance of building relationships, and how we should support educators in this work. 

Further Reading:

The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke-Harris

ACEs Connection

Treating Childhood Trauma – 60 Minutes segment with Oprah Winfrey

What do you say when a student asks, “Did you vote for Donald Trump?”

In this episode, we discuss how to respond to difficult questions, how to get students to engage in civil discourse in these turbulent political times, and what happened when Tarana Burke, the founder of the #metoo movement, led Hume-Fogg students in a walkout to protest gun violence.

Amanda Smithfield is a librarian at Hume-Fogg Magnet High School, and in her words, she is the “proudest Democrat ever to sponsor the high school Republicans.” In addition to starting clubs for both the high school Republicans and the high school Democrats, Amanda has started a movement called ProjectCivAmerica, where she hosts monthly bipartisan discussions on topics such as gun control and net neutrality. Amanda provides resources for anyone who wants to host their own ProjectCiv discussions.

Holly Korbey is my special guest cohost this week. Holly is an education journalist who is passionate about closing the research to practice gap. She has written groundbreaking pieces about dyslexia and social and emotional learning, to name a few. Currently, Holly is working on a book titled, How to Raise a Citizen, to be released in 2019. Sign up for Holly’s civics education newsletter to learn more about raising citizens in today’s political climate.

Whenever I tell someone that corporal punishment still happens in Tennessee schools, the reaction is typically shock. People can’t believe that kids are still being hit in schools as punishment in the year 2018.

Investigative journalist, Alanna Autler was similarly surprised to learn that this practice is still commonplace. She was shocked most of all to learn that students with disabilities are corporally punished at a higher rate than students without disabilities in Tennessee schools. Click here and here and here to read some of Alanna’s groundbreaking journalism on this topic.

In this episode you will hear my conversation with Alanna, as well as gain a greater understanding of the policies and laws in place that allow educators to continue this very controversial practice.

If you want to see corporal punishment banned for students with disabilities, please contact your legislators and ask the to support HB 2330. This bill, sponsored by Nashville Representative Jason Powell, is coming up in a House Subcommittee this afternoon at 3:00. The corresponding SB 2330 is coming up in the Senate Education Committee tomorrow. Here is a link to the House Subcommittee members to call and here’s a link to the Senate Education Committee members to call.

If you are involved in public education in Nashville, you are probably familiar with TC Weber’s blog, Dad Gone Wild. TC publishes new posts every Monday and Friday (and sometimes in between) that explore the ins and outs of what’s happening in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

Love him or hate him, TC fearlessly informs our community about things that are happening that we might not otherwise know about. In this conversation, we talk about the moral implications of overworking and underpaying teachers. We also talk about his blogging journey and what sustains his work.

Finally, TC discusses his decision to run for the District 2 MNPS School Board seat. He shares his priorities: teacher recruitment and retention, capital needs, making sure we’re spending money wisely, and having honest conversations about restorative practices and discipline.



In this episode you will hear Alison McArthur and Hank Clay discuss the community schools model and how their organizations are transforming schools here in Nashville.  Alison is the Coordinator for Community Achieves and Hank is the CEO of Communities in Schools of Tennessee.

Communities in Schools of Tennessee (CISTN) is part of the national Communities in Schools Network, and they serve over 2,000 students in six schools within the Metro Nashville Public School District. I first became aware of CISTN’s work at a site visit. One of their main goals is to decrease chronic absenteeism, and they are actually making it happen. On my visit, I saw how the site coordinator greets students when they arrive every morning and how he immediately notices who is absent. He calls their homes and checks in to see how he can help. Does the student need a ride? Do they need help finding standard school attire? Is there some type of illness or family emergency? He forms real relationships with students and families and the results are amazing. Statewide, schools affiliated with Communities in Schools last year saw 96% of students stay in school, 90% improve their behavior, and 93% make academic gains. Click here to view the full 2016-2017 Impact Report

I was similarly moved at a Community Achieves site visit to Pearl-Cohn Entertainment Magnet High School. The Community Achieves initiative places special focus on fostering partnerships between Metro Nashville Public Schools and non-profit organizations. Pearl-Cohn is one of 17 Community Achieves schools within the MNPS.

On my visit, I witnessed how students at Pearl-Cohn have access to social workers, trained mental health professionals, and trauma specialists. Dr. Sonia Stewart, the principal at Pearl-Cohn, has also clearly made restorative practices and social and emotional learning an integral part of the school’s culture. Pearl-Cohn is showing amazing growth as a result of these initiatives. Attendance is up, achievement test scores are up, more students are graduating and more are going to college. They have also received numerous awards and have been featured on Edutopia’s Schools That Work series. If you’d like to read more about the work Community Achieves is doing, I recommend reading this Evidence-Based Strategy Brief.

Here is a list of ways that you can get involved:


I prepared this episode before the horrific mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. I hope you’ll consider joining me at March For Our Lives Nashville on March 24. I believe that we owe it to our children and our teachers to show that we won’t stand idly by and do nothing. In the words of survivor Emma Gonzales, “The thing that caused me grief, the thing that had no right to cause me grief, the thing that had no right to happen in the first place, I have to do something actively to prevent it from happening to somebody else.”



I had a lovely chat with Leticia Skae-Jackson, the Literacy Teacher Development Specialist at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet School here in Nashville. I reached out to Letitia after reading her Edweek blog post, 4 Steps to Becoming a Culturally Responsive Teacher. Leticia’s enthusiasm for teaching and learning is contagious and she shares many gems of wisdom in this episode.

We begin by talking about Leticia’s childhood experience of immigrating to Nashville from Malawi, Africa. Next, Leticia describes her journey towards becoming a more culturally responsive educator as well as insights and suggestions for educators who wish to become more culturally responsive. We also talk about how brain research should support teaching and learning, and finally Leticia gives advice to teachers on how to maintain their sanity when new initiatives are continuously being introduced.

Here are some great resources if you’d like to learn more about culturally responsive teaching.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions


I had a nice chat with Chris Weber, the Director of Student Assignment Services for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Chris has been with the district for a long time so he was able to provide some interesting insights into the past, present, and future of different initiatives. He was also very forthcoming and it is apparent that he truly wants to help families navigate this sometimes confusing process.

I think you will enjoy listening if you are a parent navigating the school choice application process or if you are a community member who just wants to know more about how it all works.

Here are some of the topics we explore in the episode:

  • The historical context of magnet schools
  • The past, present, and future goals the district has for magnet schools
  • The updated admission requirements for academic magnets
  • Transportation options for students not attending their zoned schools
  • Why all parents should visit their zoned schools before making assumptions
  • Zoned option schools and schools with geographic priority zones, such as Glendale Spanish Immersion and Lockeland Design Center
  • Changes in the works for next year, such as the creation of new federally funded magnet schools and the revamped application process for transferring juniors and seniors

Still have questions about the process? Chris graciously offered to follow up with anyone who needs help/clarification. Leave a comment or send me an email and I will pass it on to him!

In this episode you will hear parts of my conversation with Vesia Wilson-Hawkins, a local education blogger who used to work for Metro Nashville Public Schools. Vesia’s blog is titled Volume and Light and her tagline is, “speaking out for better Nashville Schools”. It is obvious that Vesia cares deeply about supporting families navigating the education system and that she believes that all kids should be entitled to attend a great school.
While she and I may disagree on certain things, I feel like Vesia have a lot in common and we had a very interesting and thought provoking conversation. School choice has been a huge topic of debate in Nashville and across the country during the past several years. I am typically of the belief that we should put our money and resources towards improving our existing public schools, and Vesia is clearly supportive of families having increased access to schools of their choice. The reason I wanted to interview Vesia is because one day I was reading her blog, and she wrote something that stopped me in my tracks. She said, “ Our children deserve better than what we’ve given them. They deserve adults who fight poverty, underperforming schools, racism, and classism. Not adults who fight each other.” And with those words, I couldn’t agree more.

“Our children deserve better than what we’ve given them. They deserve adults who fight poverty, underperforming schools, racism, and classism. Not adults who fight each other.” -Vesia Wilson-Hawkins

In the first segment, you will hear Vesia and I discuss school choice, school segregation, and why white parents should stop speaking for parents of color. Disclaimer: You will hear me cheering and agreeing that white parents should stop talking about those parents. I have been guilty of that many times and worse, I have stood by and listened as other people spoke out of turn.

To finish up, Vesia wanted to say a few words about Project LIT and the work that Jarred Amato is doing. If you didn’t listen to our last episode series, I encourage you to go back and listen to Jarred Amato tell his story. I hope you enjoy hearing about Vesia’s personal connection to Project LIT.

Thank you for listening! I am still learning, and I would love any feedback about what is and isn’t working. I am busy lining up new guests for the new year. Please reach out and let me know if you have  any suggestions for potential guests. I look forward to listening and learning with you in 2018!