NPEF names finalists for ‘Inspiring Innovation Award’

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Three Nashville education initiatives have been selected as finalists for the Nashville Public Education Foundation’s Inspiring Innovation Award. The finalists are:

  • Conexión Américas’ Escalera College Access and Success Program
  • Martha O’Bryan Center’s Academic Student Unions
  • Nashville Public Library’s Limitless Libraries

These initiatives were chosen from dozens of applicants for their innovative programs that are moving the needle for public education in Nashville. The finalists were named after a community selection panel interviewed seven semifinalists, determining the top three candidates.

This year’s winner will be announced at the Public Schools Hall of Fame luncheon on Wednesday, Oct. 4. The Inspiring Innovation Award was launched in 2016 to recognize individuals, groups or organizations doing particularly innovative work to strengthen and improve outcomes for public school children. The goal of the award is to showcase promising work and help scale and grow the things that show particular promise. The 2016 inaugural winner was the Nashville Newcomer Academy – recognized for its unique collaborative partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools, STEM Preparatory Academy and Metro government to strengthen English language instruction for new Americans.

This year’s Inspiring Innovation Award is presented by Nissan North America, Inc., with the winner receiving a $10,000 grant to scale up and expand programming to reach additional schools and children.

“This award gets to the heart of what the Nashville Public Education Foundation is all about,” said Shannon Hunt, NPEF president and CEO. “We are committed to encouraging innovation in education and providing the resources to ensure Nashville has an exemplary public school system for our students, parents and teachers.”

The Escalera College Access and Success Program helps immigrant and refugee high school students explore postsecondary education options, learn about potential careers, and apply to and succeed in college. The Conexión Américas Escalera program is a partner of the National Council of La Raza and is the first Escalera program in the country to serve a diverse population of immigrant and refugee students in addition to Latino students. The program works with 100 students each year at Glencliff and John Overton high schools and will expand to Cane Ridge High School this fall. Of students who participated in Conexión Américas’ Escalera program in 2016–2017, 96 percent graduated from high school. Ninety-five percent of 2017 program graduates are planning to enroll in a postsecondary institution this fall. Conexión Américas’ first cohort of Escalera students came from 10 different countries, and 88 percent have enrolled in multiple semesters of college.

The Martha O’Bryan Center’s Academic Student Unions provide students with academic, social, career and college preparation assistance. Working with 800 students per year at Stratford and Maplewood high schools, the program gives students assistance with social and educational needs through daily tutoring, small group counseling and college application assistance programs. Since the Academic Student Union program began, 98 percent of seniors involved with the program have graduated on time and 77 percent have been accepted to college. For every dollar spent on the Academic Student Union program, students receive $23.6 in grants and scholarships for postsecondary education. Focused on the entire student population, Academic Student Unions help transform school expectations and put students on the path toward future success. Last year, 316 Academic Student Union graduates were enrolled in postsecondary education and 35 students have graduated, to date, with a college diploma.

The Nashville Public Library’s Limitless Libraries initiative provides MNPS access to the library’s 2 million-item collection. Because of the program, students and teachers can use their ID numbers as library cards, and are able to borrow items and have the materials delivered directly to their schools. By placing the library at their fingertips, Limitless Libraries expands the educational resources and opportunities available to Metro educators and students. According to a 2017 teacher survey, 90 percent of teachers who completed the survey said that Nashville Public Library resources enhanced their instruction. The partnership between MNPS and the Nashville Public Library is the first of its kind, and is proactively helping combat the classroom book shortage in MNPS. During the 2016–2017 school year, Limitless Libraries provided 55,000 students, nearly 10,000 educators and 135 librarians access to books, curriculum kits, DVDs and online databases.

“These finalists have made such an impact on students in Nashville, and truly are champions of education,” Hunt said. “They all deserve recognition and support for their commitment to improving education and student outcomes in our schools.”

The Public Schools Hall of Fame will take place Wednesday, Oct. 4, at 11 a.m. at the Omni Nashville Hotel. The presenting sponsor of this year’s event is SunTrust. The event, which has become one of the city’s top annual events celebrating public schools, recognizes community leaders who are committed to the advancement of public education in Nashville and raises funds to strengthen and improve public schools.

To purchase tickets, visit or call 615-727-1515. All proceeds support the NPEF’s work to better our public schools.