Dr. Register: It's time for Nashville to go "all in" on public education

Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register spoke at the Nashville Public Education Foundation Hall of Fame ceremony earlier today. He called on the people in the room - and all the people of Nashville - to unify with one voice and go "all in" on doing whatever it takes to accelerate student achievement. Below are his full remarks.


I appreciate the invitation to speak to this esteemed group today. We are here to honor some incredible civic leaders and Metro Schools’ alumni.

But everyone in this room is here for another reason as well – a very important reason. You’re here because you believe in our kids. You believe every one of them deserves a great education and the chance to succeed in life. And – like the great teachers and leaders in our public schools – you believe every one of our students is capable of high academic achievement.

In this world, it’s not often that people coalesce around a common belief – on any issue. But there’s no person in this room – there’s not a person in this city – who doesn’t believe preparing our kids for the future is supremely important.

In fact, as a city, we have unified around this belief. It’s the Mayor’s top priority. It’s the Metro Council’s top priority. It’s the business community’s top priority.

Although we share this common belief, unfortunately, we are not speaking with one voice on this issue. Diverging opinions about how we reach our common goal have gotten in the way of us having constructive conversations about how we accelerate our school system’s progress.

There are too many shouting voices and not enough people standing up to say – let’s stop the fighting and focus on our kids.

There’s never been a more important moment for a city to decide it needs to be “all in” on doing whatever it takes to accelerate student achievement.

We’ll have a new Mayor and a new Director of Schools this year. My successor – whoever he or she might be – has a tremendous opportunity to build on the progress that’s been made.

This district is well positioned to see academic achievement accelerate rapidly in the years ahead. We have the tools to measure our progress: Our Research, Assessment and Evaluation department is second to none. The Academic Performance Framework that we have developed is quickly becoming recognized as the most comprehensive 360-degree view of school-level accountability available. We are still learning and refining this great tool. But we have it, and most districts don’t.

We have the data and technology to guide our practices: Our district’s data warehouse has connected our teachers and principals with the information they need to adjust their instructional strategies in real time.

We have the infrastructure to support our schools: Our operational and business practices have made us more efficient and more flexible – we now have a system that works to support schools rather than a system that schools have to navigate to get support.

That’s not to say that the next Director will have an easy job – far from it. But we’re well along on our journey of transformation. I hope my successor has the vision and leadership to take this district where it needs to go; where it can go.

But equally important to the Board’s job of finding the right person to fill this role, is your job – as community members, as stakeholders, as educators, as advocates – to come together with a common voice.

There have always been debates about education policy and ideology – and there always will be. Debate can be healthy and productive; it can lead to better outcomes by ensuring more opinions and ideas are given consideration.

But debate can just as easily turn divisive, when different sides don’t listen with open ears, when political agendas outweigh the only agenda that should be driving our decisions – and that is outcomes for students.

When the debate becomes about adults, and not kids, we’re in a dangerous place.

Nashville is a world-class city. The appeal and success of Nashville right now is undeniable. And there’s one key ingredient that made it all possible: Optimism.

Nashville is soaring high today because all through its recent history city leaders, business leaders, philanthropists, volunteers, and the people who live here have shared a sense of optimism.

That optimism has led to the right investments at the right times – large and small – from an arena downtown to community members stepping up in the wake of a flood. People have invested their time, energy and money into a vision for what Nashville could be.


That same passion exists around education in this city. We’ve seen it. We’ve benefited from it. Now is the time to harness an optimistic vision for Metro Nashville Public Schools.

And it’s up to you – and all of us in this room – and others across this city – to develop that vision and see it come to be. That’s why I encourage you to support the Nashville Public Education Foundation and get involved in the foundation’s Project RESET.

It’s time to reset the conversation.

Not because we’re headed in the wrong direction – we’ve turned the ship and we’re now headed in the right way – but because we need to have a healthy, productive public conversation about how we move our progress forward.

I want to acknowledge the leadership of the Public Education Foundation – the Board and especially President Shannon Hunt – for leading this effort.

For me personally, it has been a privilege and an honor to help carry our schools forward.

Thank you very much.