Dr. Joseph: “Metro Schools gets a ‘B’ on the start of schools”
Director points to successes and areas for improvement after first full day of school
With nearly 88,000 students coming back to school for a new year, the Metro Schools leadership team is closely examining what went well and what areas need greater support. In a detailed memo to principals and other school leaders, Director of Schools Dr. Shawn Joseph acknowledges the concerns seen and heard in schools and spells out ways they are being addressed.
“We feel like it’s been a good start to the year, but overall I give us a grade of B,” said Dr. Joseph. “We had some great successes, largely due to our phenomenal principals and school staff. The schools look great, the staff are friendly and easy to access and everyone is working with a positive attitude. But there are some issues we saw in multiple areas of the district that we know we need to fix. The next steps are for my team to find resolutions, and quickly, so that principals can worry more about instruction and less about late buses and enrollment questions.”
Leading up to the first day, Dr. Joseph tasked central office leadership with visiting every school between August 3 and August 12 to observe schools, talk to principals and teachers and see what supports need to be given. At the end of each day during this period, the central office team gathers together to go over the issues found and make a plan for solutions.
Some of the issues found in the first two days of school include:
- Transportation Several families in Metro Schools were not assigned school bus routes over the summer as they should have been. This is likely due to issues related to moving to a new student data system, as some student addresses were not transferred in the move. Enrollment staff members are working right now to ensure every student has a valid address, and transportation staff members are working to get them into the routing software as quickly as possible.This issue is leading to some delays in school bus service and, in some cases, families not having a route at all. District officials acknowledge this is a problem, and are working to solve it for all families. In the meantime, families can check the Find Your Bus Stop tool online to see if they have school bus information available. If they do not, they can contact the Family Information Center at 615-259-INFO (4636) or by email at FamilyInfo@mnps.org to create a record of their individual issues.
- Enrollment Families continue to enroll throughout the first day of school, and instructions for school staff about enrollment were not clear enough. This caused some confusion over who was responsible for enrollment and how it should be handled. There are also several students with information waiting to be entered into the new student data system, which came online July 11.Schools have now been given clear instructions on how to enroll students on the spot, without having to send them to an Enrollment Center, along with all necessary forms. Enrollment staff members are working to ensure proper entry of all students who have completed the enrollment process.
- Family Information Center With increased phone call volume related to the start of schools, along with an antiquated phone system in the process of being replaced, the Family Information Center phone lines crashed for two hours on the first day of school, leaving many families with no answers to their questions. The system remains at capacity, leading to long wait times and, in some cases, disconnected calls.The phone system is being replaced with a more modern system, though that will not be finished until early fall. Call volume is expected to return to normal levels in the second week of school, which should allow for faster answer times and quicker resolutions. However, other solutions are also under discussion to provide more immediate relief.
Other common issues seen in schools involve access to the new student data system, custodial services and interpretation for families who do not speak English. They are detailed in a memo to school leaders. You can also view the observation checklist used by district leadership during school visits.
“Like we’ve been saying, we have high expectations of ourselves, and we need to live up to and exceed them,” said Dr. Joseph. “That includes giving schools everything they need to serve students. Right now, we’re falling a little short. We need to acknowledge it, fix it and move forward in the school year.
“It was a busy summer for us, with a brand new leadership team coming on board in July, hiring nearly 30 principals, changing systems and processes – we did a lot. But we can always do more, and the lessons we learned this week will make us stronger this year and next August when we open the doors on 2017.”