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Metro Schools advanced academics are strong and getting stronger

Encore chief and a former MLK principal to take over leadership of programs for high-performing students.

Advanced academics are a priority in Metro Schools. District leaders and educators have focused a lot of energy into expanding programs, identifying more advanced learners and helping them reach their full potential. To continue that focus, Metro Schools has chosen two leaders with strong histories in advanced academics.

Matt Nelson, currently the coordinator of gifted services, is being promoted to director of advanced academics and talent management. Dr. Schunn Turner, who is returning to Metro Schools after a year at LEAD Academy Middle School, will take over as coordinator of gifted services.

In his new role, Nelson will oversee all advanced academics pre-K-12, including Encore, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge and AVID. He will also lead efforts to help all classroom teachers tailor instruction for advanced students. And starting next school year, Nelson’s office will be in charge of all dual enrollment and dual credit classes that allow high school students to take college courses.

“After such a progressive year for advanced academics, we need to keep that momentum going,” said Dr. Dottie Critchlow, executive officer for instructional support. “Matt and Schunn are the perfect people to continue the gains we’ve made, as they know the programs, they know the challenges, and – most importantly – they know the students.”

Nelson came to Nashville in 2013 after a national search for a leader of the Encore program. During his time here, he has helped set the course for gifted learners across the district, improving instruction in Encore classes and ensuring gifted and talented students get the kind of instruction they need in their regular classes.

He is also helping to expand opportunities for high performing students in under-represented populations through the Young Scholars of Nashville program (YSN). YSN will begin in 15 pilot schools next year, giving students in kindergarten, first and second grades the chance for one to two hours of high quality enrichment classes per week that prepare them for more advanced academic opportunities.

“We believe that early identification of students who display gifts and talents is key to getting them to take more advanced classes in the future,” said Nelson. “By developing these talents early on, they are much more likely to choose advanced paths like AP, International Baccalaureate, Cambridge or others later on. I am excited to continue these efforts and help students nurture their academic talents from pre-K to graduation.”

Dr. Turner is a very familiar face in Metro Schools. Prior to spending one year as school leader at LEAD Academy Middle, she spent seven years as executive principal at Martin Luther King, Jr. Academic Magnet School, serving students in grades seven through twelve. There she helped high performing students reach their full potential every day. Under her leadership, MLK regularly ranked in the top 100 public schools in the country, according to Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report. This year, MLK was named one of the top two most academically challenging schools in Tennessee. Prior to that, Dr. Turner led McMurray Middle Prep as executive principal.

“I am so pleased to return to Metro Schools particularly because, in a way, I get to continue what I was doing before. Our schools are filled with students of great potential. Giving them the chance to meet that potential and discover what talented learners they are is thrilling, ” said Dr. Turner.

Dr. Turner has been with Metro Schools since 1995 and has also taught at Tennessee State University and Trevecca Nazarene University. Before coming to Nashville in 2013, Nelson spent many years as a teacher and administrator in West Tennessee, most recently serving as vice principal at Collierville High School. In 2011, he was honored by both the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) and Phi Delta Kappa as an Emerging Leader in Education.