One of Nashville’s top education officials is calling for a truce in the increasingly high-pitched battle between charter school advocates and critics in that city.
Thursday night, Nashville director of schools Jesse Register insisted that the contention come to a stop, speaking before a meeting of the Metro Council’s education committee. In remarks the Tennessean’s Joey Garrison called “unusually blunt,” he told school board member and council members, “enough is enough,” signifying an understanding that, especially in urban school systems in the state, a commingling of charter schools and traditional public schools is the new normal.
Only 4,500 students in Nashville attend public charter schools, compared to 18,000 in Shelby County. But the amount of political strife over charter schools in Nashville has been disproportionate to the presence of charters there, resulting in high-profile confrontations between the state legislature and school system, and the superintendent and some school board members.
Register’s speech sends a strong signal that he is prepared to work with Nashville’s growing charter school sector at a time when the city must soon make a decision about whether to renew his five-year contract. In the past decade, federal and state laws have encouraged charter school growth. When Register became the superintendent in 2009, Nashville had only three charter schools. But that year, then-Gov. Phil Bredesen signed a law greatly expanding the charter sector. Since then,the district’s charter school enrollment has swelled to 4.5 percent and charter advocates have asserted themselves in local education politics.
“Over the last year or so there has been a steady and ever increasing tendency toward miscommunication and gamesmanship in our dialogue […] about the future of public education in this city. These actions have created distrust and hard feelings where understanding and common purpose once ruled the day. […] We have lost civility in our dialogue on education reform in general and, regrettably, particularly as it concerns our public charter schools. This loss of civility has caused good people and quality institutions that have the same basic goals — the quality education of future generations of Nashvillians — to take sides and develop an unhealthy ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality.”
Register called for charter backers, himself, and any willing school board members to meet regularly, in order to promote conversation on how to best serve the students of Nashville. This is not the first time that Register has tried to collaborate with charter schools. The Nashville Scene’s Andrea Zelinski reports that he quietly tried a similar tactic in 2013.
Although Nashville’s educational landscape bears little resemblance to Memphis now, that might soon change. In the upcoming school board election, pro-charter candidates have raised significantly more funding than their opponents, the Tennessean reports. Their collective victories could lead to an upswing in charter authorizations. And although all but one of schools run by the state’s Achievement School District have been in Memphis, the next list of schools ASD schools is expected to have more Nashville schools on it. Thus far, most ASD schools have been charter schools.
You can read the full transcript of Register’s remarks here.