Describe your vision for public education in Nashville.
This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time—and not just because I’m running for Mayor. I’ve been thinking about this since even before I was a parent. When we moved to Salemtown, I started building relationships with our community school.
And for years before we were ready to enroll, Whitney and I were reviewing our options and felt confident enrolling our first daughter in Metro Schools. Now, our younger daughter is just starting to read—it’s such an exciting time, but also a very critical one for her future.
My vision is that our girls can be welcomed to a clean, safe, quality school convenient to us by happy, professional educators who have everything they need to succeed—from adequate pay, to continuing education, to books and supplies. And if my daughter struggles in a subject, I want her to be able to access help to get back on track. I want them to have manageable class sizes, STEM, and arts programs. I want to be able to enroll them in after school programs that continue their learning in a fun way. I want my kids to be awake to learn and not face the earliest high school start times in the country. I envision a Nashville with robust summer programs in our schools, libraries, and parks, so they don’t lose what they’ve learned during the school year.
We are way overdue as a city and a school district in taking necessary steps to ensure that working families can meaningfully choose Metro Schools and have the experience I think all parents envision for their kids. From guaranteed aftercare seats—especially in elementary schools—to later high school start times, to supportive services that provide everything from meals to winter coats, I will start making budget and logistical choices as well as pursuing partnerships that will improve student performance and reduce household stress as Mayor. I will also reinvest in both early childhood literacy and youth opportunity.
Finally, as a mayor who will have children in our public schools, I will be inviting people in to celebrate excellence in our schools and reinventing the First Choice Festival to encourage all schools to showcase themselves to prospective parents.
I decided to run for Mayor because Nashville can’t afford more of the same. We can’t afford to keep funding stadiums instead of schools, subsidizing billionaires instead of paying our teachers what they deserve. I envision a Nashville where evidence-based approaches to learning and leadership-level investments create positive outcomes that last a lifetime.
If you are elected mayor, what will you do to ensure every student has access to a high-quality school in Nashville?
I think high-quality schools are an investment in our future. We can look at that investment as a three-legged stool, where we focus on balancing investment in places, people, and programs. But, we have to do so equitably as well.
Ensuring every student has access to a high-quality place to learn begins with what I like to call the “pothole” approach. Rather than paving every road in the county north to south, we send our crews to the areas that need our attention most—and we need to do the same with our public schools. For a long time, investment in education was purposefully unequal. Then, it became about investing more equally and strategically. Now, we have to invest in equity and make sure that we are bringing those areas that are exhibiting disparities in both the resources and funding coming in and the results coming out. As mayor, my capital budget will reflect that priority, whether a community needs attention because the redline is still visible, or because overdevelopment has changed the basic structure and quality of the neighborhood. Investment in place also needs to surround the school – with sidewalks, with bus stops and safe crosswalks, and neighborhoods that educators can afford to live in. And I will say: a comprehensive citywide transit plan is key to both meaningful options for families and the extracurricular activities and before- and after-school programs students need to thrive.
The next leg is to invest in our teachers and school-based professionals. These folks are the ones—even more than any elected leader—who are designing the future of our city. We need to ensure that we are building a local pipeline for these jobs, offering a livable wage on day one, and continuing to invest in educators through both training and opportunities as well as retention programs. And again, we also need to make sure that these folks can afford to live in the communities that they serve, including having opportunities to earn off-hours and in the summer through other programming, like afterschool care.
And we also have to invest in programs, both in school and out of school, that prepare young people for their future. That starts with early childhood education, to give our youngest Nashvillians a strong foundation of learning through investing in Head Start and high-quality pre-K. We also need to ensure that parents have the resources they need to support students, and that’s everything from childcare to after school programs to libraries that help youth learn year-round. But it’s also ensuring that parents, too, have the transportation infrastructure they need to access better jobs and education, and to be home with their children when the shift ends. Supporting both parents and youth emotionally is also important, through investment in mental health and reducing and addressing adverse childhood experiences. And, we need to help young people access economic opportunity outside of school through paid, meaningful jobs and internships.
Every mayor’s education efforts are shared with the caveat that duly-elected officials on the School Board can enact different policies and spend budgeted funds according to their priorities. I’d like to invite the School Board to my office on day one as mayor in order to begin the most collaborative relationship that a Mayor can have with partners in the public school space.
As mayor, how will you determine whether schools are serving all students well? What is the mayor’s role in ensuring equity of opportunity and outcomes for our students?
Achievement of education milestones is important, and right now our students are seeing lower-than-average proficiency levels in English and Math, which we need to urgently address.
But it’s clear to me that student success isn’t just about scores on a state standardized test. We need to keep an eye on overall enrollment. With the population of school-aged children in Nashville growing, our enrollment trend should not be moving the other way. So we need to look at every possible metric to give families the confidence to choose public schools.
This means we need to look at the life-readiness of students in regard to their graduation rate, access to further education, and access to meaningful paid internships, apprenticeships, and jobs.
I would also look at class sizes and educator retention rates as a way of measuring how we serve our students, because each child deserves individual attention and care – and because almost every study on student outcomes demonstrates that a great teacher in every classroom is one of the most effective ways to improve learning outcomes.
And while some of my education work as mayor will be through budgeting and collaborating with the school board, a lot of my role will be to take on the many things that happen outside of the classroom that impact what goes on inside the classroom.
Outside the classroom, we have to address the fact that young people are coming to school hungry or having experienced trauma that distracts them from being able to focus on learning. We just expanded Community Achieves which brings important resources into schools where the student populations are experiencing these challenges. It will be critical to sustain that program after one-time funding runs out. It’s time to recognize that a lot of young people are helping keep their families afloat financially and need good paying jobs and internships outside of school hours and along transit routes. We need to ensure that the POWER Youth initiative at Metro Action Commission is not just finding internships but creating lifelong opportunities.