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!

“There’s nothing fancy or marketable about kids sitting down quietly reading a book, but it’s the most important thing they need to do.” -Jarred Amato

When I decided to start this  podcast, something told me that  Jarred Amato would be a great person to interview. Jarred is a an English teacher at Maplewood High School  and  the recently named Penguin/Random House Teacher  of the Year. I held my breath while I sent him an email  asking  if he’d like  to come on the show. He quickly replied and told me that he would be honored. We met  and Jarred was the ideal  first  guest. He is so  passionate about his work and  he  has a very inspiring vision for  what  he believes the  future  of education should look like.  There was only one problem after  our first interview.  Once I got home and tried  to play the recording back, I realized that THE MICROPHONE HAD  BEEN ON MUTE  THE ENTIRE  TIME. I  wanted to disappear.

After a few hours of agonizing, I decided to send Jarred an email and explain what happened. I figured he would be too busy to rerecord, and that all was  lost. You can imagine my surprise when Jarred emailed me back and said  that  he would be happy to do the interview again. He was so gracious when he totally didn’t have to be. Basically, he is a true  class act, and he deserves  all of the recognition he is getting right now.

In this episode, you will hear Jarred describe Project LIT, a community he created in collaboration with his students. What started out as an effort to put books into his  school’s community, has blossomed into a full-blown movement that now includes a student-led book club where community members come into schools to discuss books such as The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas, and All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

The impetus for the creation  of Project  LIT  came  when Jarred read an  article in  The Atlantic about “book deserts”. He and his students decided to build little “LIT Libraries” in their East Nashville neighborhood. This eventually evolved into the creation of  the Project LIT book club. They decided to invite  the community in to discuss  a  different book every month. Now, there are several Project LIT sites around the city, the state, and across the country.

Jarred has a passion for instilling a love of reading in his students. We talk about how students should have a consistent time  every day to be able to curl up with book of their choice and read. One of my favorite things he said is, “There’s nothing fancy or marketable about kids sitting down quietly reading a book, but it’s the most important thing they need to do.” Jarred also makes it a priority to make sure students have access  to books with characters t hey can relate to. As a fellow reading  teacher, I couldn’t agree more.

“Text selection matters… If we say we care about all kids and that all stories are worthy of sharing and all voices  are valued, then when  you look at classroom libraries and you have  book clubs, what characters are  in those books?” -Jarred Amato

If you are in Nashville or anywhere else there are Project LIT sites, I highly recommend attending a book club. I have attended a few at one our local middle schools, and  I have been really inspired  by the discussions I’ve been a part of and the connections I’ve made with students.  I also recommend following Jarred Amato and the Project LIT Community on Twitter.


The story of education in Nashville is long and complicated. Once ideas and stereotypes are perpetuated for a certain amount of time we begin to mistake them for facts. What is a good school? Who decides? Who benefits from this label? Who is hurt by it? What are our shared understandings and underlying assumptions?

Mentioned in this episode:

Jack Schneider, author of Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School Quality

Nikole Hannah-Jones, investigative journalist, New York Times articles

Ansley Erickson, author of Making the Unequal Metropolis: School Segregation and Its Limits