National school discipline data expert highlights Metro Schools' progress


Metro Schools’ progressive effort to reduce discipline disparities was highlighted in a recent community forum. Dr. Tia Martinez, a nationally recognized expert on school discipline data, presented her analysis and mapping of the school-to-prison pipeline.

"We are making progress here in Nashville," Martinez said. Metro Schools saw a 15 percent decline in suspensions between the 2011-2012 school year and 2013-2014 school year, declining from 8,134 suspensions to 6,932 suspensions.

"We've done a lot of good things in our three years but now we're ready for the next level," - Dr. Tony Majors, executive officer for support services.

The forum was sponsored by Metro Schools, the Oasis Center and the Annenberg Institute, all partners in Nashville's PASSAGE initiative.

PASSAGE, which stands for Positive and Safe Schools Advancing Greater Equity, is an initiative developed in 2014 to engage district and community partners in examining and addressing school discipline issues.

In the fall,  PASSAGE was awarded a $250,000 grant to expand into the next phase of the district's restorative practices efforts, which include ongoing coalition building among wide range of stakeholders, including principals, parents, teachers, counselors, law enforcement officers, clergy, juvenile judges, community leaders, researchers and local government officials, as well as training for these groups to critically examine the structures, policies and practices that perpetuate discipline disparities and contribute to negative school climate and culture.

"I love Nashville, because you have an explicit commitment to the work," Martinez said. "The work to reduce the discipline gap is not something that can only be owned by the schools. We'll all take pieces of it."

"It's going to take the whole community to address these issues," said Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Schools. "America has an equity problem and Nashville is a microcosm of the issue. I'm encouraged because we're all here."

Dr. Joseph said that working with the community through the strategic plan will require the district to be clear about doing something better to address the discipline gap.

Connecting the dots from age 0 to adulthood, Martinez explained how the toxic stress and dysfunction that children can be exposed to from an early age translates to behavioral issues and negative interactions with law enforcement as a child gets older, which ultimately contributes to the prison pipeline. She presented several solutions, including investments in programs and services for youth, training for teachers and administrators and overall working with community partners and organizations to raise the expectations for children in the community. passage-majors

"Most of our kids are misbehaving as a result of something else in their life," Majors said. "We have kids we know in all clusters, in all segments of our community, who suffer from a high rate of trauma who are dealing with adverse childhood experiences, who are worrying about immigration issues and deportation, who can't find a job,  and are dealing with abuse and neglect in the home. That's real. We have to take back the conversation."

School board member Dr. Sharon Gentry said part of the solution is having community partners who can provide consistency among the programs offered within the district's existing framework. Consistency is key for the district and community to make the right program investments.

"We need partners who want to come under the tent - there's room," Gentry said.

Tom Ward, who co-chairs Nashville's PASSAGE committee, said there are no expendable children and that we have to spend our energy on making resources available to the children who need it.

"We can do this in Nashville," Ward said.