The Metro Nashville Public Schools board gathered on Tuesday for its second meeting of the month, where it made a decision on a longstanding teacher termination case.
The hearing concerned a 2018 incident regarding former MNPS teacher Fred Whitley at Johnson Alternative Learning Center. According to MNPS documents, the alleged incident included a group of students who entered Whitley’s classroom when they weren’t supposed to be there, going through Whitley’s personal items. Whitley reportedly asked them to leave, but they refused. One student allegedly threw a book at Whitley. Whitley reached for his belt — the students said he took it off and tried to whip them, but Whitley maintained that he just reached for it. Whitley also threatened a student with jail time and indicated that one “would be getting ‘fucked’ in an hour when [he’s] locked up and taken to jail for putting his hands on him.”
A district representative noted on Tuesday that Whitley had a track record of “unprofessional verbal interactions with students,” while Whitley’s counsel argued that, during the incident in question, Whitley had been threatened and “did what he had to do to protect himself and what he had a right to do under Tennessee law.” Tuesday’s hearing was the last of several that followed the incident, and the board ultimately decided to sustain a hearing officer’s decision to terminate Whitley (who was suspended and terminated following the incident).
Awards and Recognition
Board members started the meeting, as always, by acknowledging the accomplishments of MNPS students and staff. Director of Schools Adrienne Battle recognized Antioch High School for receiving a Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association A.F. Bridges Sportsmanship Award, which is given to schools that had no unsportsmanlike conduct incidents in the past year. Foregoing a director’s report, Battle instead used this portion of the meeting to recap last week’s Celebration of Schools event at Nissan Stadium and thank Mayor John Cooper, the Titans and nonprofit organization The Fans Inc. for their new plan to upgrade sports fields for every MNPS high school. Battle also acknowledged a forthcoming partnership that will add the Titans to MNPS’ Academies of Nashville program, providing students “exposure to careers in sports through opportunities at Nissan Stadium.” She also thanked the Titans for their efforts with literacy engagement, girls’ flag football programming, supporting MNPS athletics and sponsoring forthcoming Celebration of Schools events at Nissan Stadium.
The board quickly approved the consent agenda, which included new spending from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund — federal COVID-19 relief money for schools. The updates, according to a memo listed in the meeting’s agenda, include:
Highlighted ESSER 2 budget revisions:
• Reallocation of dollars held back for assistant principals, teachers, as paraprofessionals to account for unfilled vacancies in SY21-22.
• Reduction in dollars reserved for personal protective equipment to account for decreased price of services.
• Reduction in dollars for intervention software to account for projects coming in under budget and to allow for reallocation for services for ATSI, TSI, and priority schools.
• Increase in funding to support dual enrollment costs to allow high school students to earn college credit.
• Increased investment in operations and safety, including brandished weapon detection software and improved access and control systems.
Highlighted ESSER 3 budget revisions:
• Reallocation of funding to support professional development regarding the Fastbridge assessment system.
• Reallocation of funding to increase investment in community partners.
• Increased in stipends for teachers to support math standards training.
• Increased funding for school supports, including an additional summer professional development day (approved in the October calendar vote), increased high school success coaches, additional school scheduling supports, and supports for the forthcoming math curriculum adoption.
District 6 representative Cheryl Mayes noted that she’d “like to see some sort of backend performance measurements for these contracts. As we start to approve these, we want to make sure that we’re being fiscally responsible.”
The board reviewed four charter school 10-year renewal contracts: Intrepid College Prep, Purpose Preparatory Academy, KIPP Nashville College Prep Middle School and Nashville Classical. The district’s charter office, which reviews and investigates charter applications, found that all schools met or exceeded standards surrounding academic success, operational stability, financial health and future planning. The discussions surrounding all four renewal applications were relatively similar. Board members discussed additional information they’d like to see in charter renewals before making their decisions, such as test score data, improvement plans that respond to district feedback and indicators that determine if charters are meeting the goals they set for themselves in their original applications.
“[The charter office is] a compliance-driven office,” District 2 representative and board chair Rachael Anne Elrod noted. “And that information — though I agree would be so helpful, and particularly because it is what we have asked for as a school system — it’s not what the state has asked for. And so what we have in front of us is what the state asks for.”
Elrod also relayed the district data to monitor each charter’s special populations enrollment numbers, including economically disadvantaged students, those with disabilities and English learners. She expressed concern that these numbers are relatively low among the charter schools and do not reflect the communities surrounding them — a nod to the argument that some charters cherry-pick their students.
Elrod and Mayes engaged in a brief back-and-forth about enrollment numbers in Southeast Nashville and the need for additional school space — Elrod said the area doesn’t “absolutely” need those extra seats through a charter school, and Mayes said it does.
The votes to renew Intrepid Prep, Purpose Prep, KIPP Nashville College Prep were all the same, with six members voting in favor and three voting against the renewal — the three members who voted against the charters were Elrod, District 9 representative Abigail Tylor and District 3 representative Emily Masters. Emily Masters read a statement on behalf of Nashville Classical and said it was the only charter school she would vote to renew that night. Abigail Tylor expressed difficulty in making her decision.
“It is meeting the academic needs of the students in a way that the other charters had not, and yet I am concerned that as their numbers of who they claim they want to serve continue to decrease, that their school could end up being basically a state-funded private school,” said Tylor. “And I don’t want it to end up to be that kind of feeling, like we’re actually not looking for the students that we claim we want to serve. And I just have a real concern about charters in general doing that, that the attempt is to cultivate a community that is very hand-picked and very curated, and very pruned when necessary. And that’s not something any zoned school is allowed to do.”
The board voted to approve Nashville Classical’s renewal contract 7-1, with Tylor abstaining. Elrod was the sole vote against renewing the charter.