MTSU’s President McPhee Embraces New Academic Year

MTSU’s President McPhee Embraces New Academic Year

MURFREESBORO, TN — MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee kicked off the new academic year Thursday, Aug. 23, by applauding the university’s faculty and staff for continued progress in student retention and graduation while emphasizing the need to develop new strategies in an ever-evolving higher education landscape.

Now in his 18th year leading the Blue Raider campus, McPhee addressed a capacity crowd of faculty and staff inside Tucker Theatre during his annual State of the University remarks as part of the traditional Fall Faculty Meeting in advance of classes beginning Monday for fall semester.

“The calling to make a difference in the lives of others — the passion that drew each member of our academic community to fulfill careers in teaching, research, service, and providing mentorship — is the ultimate goal of our institution,” he said.

Hundreds of MTSU faculty and staff listen as university President Sidney A. McPhee gives his annual State of the University address Thursday, Aug. 23, during the Fall Faculty Meeting inside Tucker Theatre. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

Another highlight of the gathering was the presentation of the MTSU Foundation’s Career Achievement Award, this year going to Judith Iriarte-Gross, a professor of chemistry at MTSU since 1996 who is nationally known for her advocacy for girls and women in the sciences.

Iriarte-Gross is director of the Women In STEM (WISTEM) Center at MTSU and the founder and director of Tennessee’s first Expanding Your Horizons girls’ STEM education workshop. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

In assessing the university’s overall progress during his hourlong remarks, McPhee noted that MTSU continues making progress through its Quest for Student Success initiative to improve retention and graduation rates, accountability and affordability while “striving to become the public university that more students and parents look to for a top-rate education.”

He cited the increase in full-time freshman retention rate from 69 percent in Fall 2013, when the university first began its student success initiatives, to 76.8 percent in Fall 2017. MTSU’s efforts have become a national model, he said, with media outlets such as The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Chronicle of Higher Education taking note.

He commended University Provost Mark Byrnes and Vice Provost Rick Sluder for leading the retention efforts and touted a list of other achievements from across the university — from funded research to accelerated graduate programs and from athletic successes to ongoing support for student veterans.

“Our proven ability to educate graduates with the least amount of taxpayer dollars per-student is something in which we can, and should, take great pride,” he said.

McPhee also announced Thursday that the MTSU Board of Trustees earlier this summer approved his recommendation for a 1.5 percent across-the-board salary increase for employees while also approving the use of $3.7 million in state and university funds for partially implementing a compensation plan to make MTSU salaries more competitive over time.

Other address highlights:

 MTSU’s new 91,000-square-foot Academic Classroom Building will provide a state-of-the-art facility for the College of Behavioral and Health Sciences, including much-needed classroom, office and lab spaces for the Criminal Justice, Psychology, and Social Work departments. The $36 million project is expected to be completed in Summer 2020.

Renovations at Peck Hall are nearing completion and include new ceiling and lighting for the breezeways, new lighting for the corridors, refinishing of the flooring on the second and third levels, and new furnishings for the courtyard areas.

The long-running Middle Tennessee Boulevard widening project is expected to be finished in December.

Parking Services will have new facility located on City View Drive on the southeastern edge of campus, with completion expected by the end of 2019.

Alumni and supporters donated more than $12.7 million in gifts in the last fiscal year, which exceeded the previous year.

Discussions continue regarding the potential transfer of the Valparaiso University’s law school to MTSU. Such a transfer would result in an estimated gift value of $35 million to $40 million.

McPhee concluded his remarks by noting that he would be meeting with senior administrators and deans in the coming months to develop strategies for the next five years “that will differentiate MTSU from our peers and competitors.” (Read the full text of his remarks at

Career Achievement Award winner

MTSU chemistry professor and nationally recognized STEM education advocate Judith Iriarte-Gross, center, proudly accepts the 2018 MTSU Foundation Career Achievement Award Thursday, Aug. 23, from MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee, left, and MTSU Foundation President Ron Nichols, right, at the university’s Fall Faculty Meeting inside Tucker Theatre. Iriarte-Gross, who’s taught at MTSU since 1996 and is director of the Women In STEM (WISTEM) Center at MTSU and the founder and director of Tennessee’s first Expanding Your Horizons girls’ science, technology, engineering and math education workshop. The Career Achievement Award is presented annually to a professor at MTSU and is considered the pinnacle of recognition for the university’s faculty. Iriarte-Gross also is a fellow of both the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two of the country’s premier scientific professional societies, among her many honors. (MTSU photo by J. Intintoli)

In accepting the Career Achievement Award, Iriarte-Gross noted the importance that federal programs such as TRiO and Upward Bound played in helping a young, first-generation college student from a single-parent home enter higher education and pursue the sciences with the encouragement of teachers and mentors.

Iriarte-Gross also is a fellow of both the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two of the country’s premier scientific professional societies, among her many honors.

“I tell my students today, listen to your teachers because they see something in you that you might not see,” she said.

When she and husband Charles moved to Murfreesboro in 1996, Iriarte-Gross recalled that she noticed the absence of an EYH program for young girls anywhere in Tennessee. She went to work launching one on the Blue Raider campus that will host its 22nd edition in October and has since been joined by five other EYH programs across the state. 

“We are changing the future STEM workforce for Tennessee by showing girls that they can do anything,” she said.

The Career Achievement Award is presented annually to a professor at MTSU and is considered the pinnacle of recognition for the university’s faculty. It is given at the Fall Faculty Meeting as part of the MTSU Foundation Awards, which include a variety of awards recognizing outstanding faculty members. Find the full list of winners at

The post MTSU’s President McPhee Embraces New Academic Year appeared first on The Tennessee Tribune.

School District Moves Forward With Aggressive Equity Agenda Despite $17M in Budget Cuts

School District Moves Forward With Aggressive Equity Agenda Despite $17M in Budget Cuts

Tyese Hunter, Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education Budget and Finance Committee chair

Tyese Hunter, Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education Budget and Finance Committee chair

NASHVILLE, TN — Many school districts across the nation are feeling the squeeze that smaller budgets and higher expectations for achievement are placing on their already challenged learning environments. While there is a constant push to do more with less, committed board members, administrators and teachers continue to fight through those challenges to remain focused on the goal of elevating student achievement. 

This scenario is a strikingly familiar one for Metro Nashville Public Schools, a chronically underfunded district tasked with the expectations of meeting rigorous state and national achievement standards despite scarcity in resources. Out of thousands of school districts across the nation, MNPS stands as the 41st largest educating 86,000 students from diverse communities. Like other large districts, the directive to meet growing educational demands has become a stark reality, even when the funding does not compliment this top priority. 

Tyese Hunter, who represents District 6 and serves as the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education Budget and Finance Committee chair, said although it was a difficult budget process this year, the misperception of all doom-and-gloom is inaccurate. She said while the decrease in funding is significant, the board was diligent in laser-focusing on priorities to have the greatest impact for all students.

“Despite what some have communicated, a lot of progress was made in this budget, even with all its challenges,” Hunter said. “We engaged in some very tough conversations and worked really hard to determine which priorities would be most impactful to students and families.” 

She added, “Leadership is about meeting the tough challenges and not allowing a few vocal voices to get in the way of progress. There were some very brave conversations this year around equity across our district, and I commend my board colleagues for being courageous enough to address this critical issue by voting for a budget that prioritized students who have been underserved for decades.”

In a tight budget year, the district looked at how it could provide its poorest and neediest schools with a boost through how it allocated its Title I funds.  Title I funds are dollars given to school districts by the Federal government to help poor students perform better in schools.  The Board voted 7-2 for a budget that provided equity and access to some of the district’s most vulnerable students, which led to a total of $7.2 million additional dollars being allocated to schools with $5.2 million being given to special education and $2 million for English Language Learners.  Thanks to the Metro Council, an additional $2 million was provided to increase paraeducator pay and to ensure all students can take and earn credit for advanced coursework at the high school level like Advanced Placement courses, International Baccalaureate courses, and dual credit courses through Nashville State Community College, as well as industry certifications – for free.  Over the past two years, the district has allocated an additional $14 million directly to schools. 

These bold moves coupled with the work the Board of Education approved last year providing resources to ensure each elementary and middle school had Encore, which is offered through Gifted and Talented programs, and teachers and qualified literacy experts in every building. New literacy curriculum in all schools will ensure that Metro Nashville Public Schools is serving the needs of all students without taking anything away from all students. 

“We want to make sure all students, regardless of their academic status and background, are not left behind,” said Dr. Shawn Joseph, director of schools. “Our most accelerated learners are not getting short-changed because we are addressing the needs of special education and ELL learners. We believe we can, and we will, provide equitable services across this district that ensures every single child’s educational needs are met.”

Hunter, who represents one of the city’s most diverse school populations, said Metro Schools has made strides over the past two years. Reading and math scores are up, ACT scores are moving in the right direction with more students taking the test, more are taking and passing AP and IB tests, and additional funds toward special education, gifted and talented services, and English Language services are areas that are being addressed. 

“As budget chair this year, we had a hard conversation about equity in this district. We sent more money to our neediest schools and held 10 community budget meetings to ensure we received input and concern from parents and the community,” Hunter said. “This is unprecedented and resulted in nearly every cluster receiving an increase in funding over the previous year.”

Reports from organizations such as the Nashville Public Education Foundation and the Nashville Chamber of Commerce link Nashville’s future to its success with education. How the city invests in this key economic driver which is tied directly to job creation and global competitiveness will determine its ability to hold on to the “it-city” persona that has caught fire across the country. According to the U.S. Department of Education, increasing educational attainment by a single grade level boosts lifetime income, is a potent weapon against poverty and illiteracy, shapes active citizens, and builds safer, stronger and healthier communities, among other benefits.

“Education is an investment, and while MNPS did not receive the level of funding we wanted from the city, we expect this district’s administration to ensure the funds we have been provided are put to good use,” Hunter said. “Further, as we move ahead, it is important that we continue to exhibit this type of courage and decision making on the board, and to keep at the forefront what is best for children over politics.”

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Betsy DeVos Loves School Choice. But You Don’t See Much of It in ESSA Plans

Education Week logoU.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is a big cheerleader for school choice. And way before she came into office, states around the country were adopting tax-credit scholarships, education savings accounts, and more.

So has all that translated into a big bonanza for school choice in states’ Every Student Succeeds Act plans? Not really.

To be sure, ESSA isn’t a school choice law. School choice fans in Congress weren’t able to persuade their colleagues to include Title I portability in the law, which would have allowed federal funding to follow students to the public school of their choice.

However, the law does has some limited avenues for states to champion various types of school choice options. But only a handful of states are taking advantage of those opportunities, according to reviews of the plans by Education Week and the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

School Improvement: At least 12 states say they want schools that are perennially low-performing to consider reopening as charter schools to boost student achievement. Those states are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Nevada, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah.

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Sen. Lamar Alexander Backs Changes to ESSA to Improve School Safety

Sen. Lamar Alexander Backs Changes to ESSA to Improve School Safety

Education Week logoThe chairman of the Senate education committee wants to change the main federal education law to allow schools to hire more counselors, make infrastructure improvements, and fund violence-prevention programs.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., announced Tuesday that he would introduce the School Safety and Mental Health Service Improvement Act at some point this week. Among other things, it would change Title IV, which gets $400 billion in the fiscal 2018 federal budget, in order to let schools pay for new safety technology, “physical security,” and training school personnel to help them recognize and defuse threats of violence. And his proposal would also change Title II to make it easier for the $2 billion program for educator professional development to fund school counselors. Both Title II and Title IV are part of the Every Student Succeeds Act—Title IV was created when ESSA became law in 2015.

School safety has been a prominent topic in Congress since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month that left 17 students and school staff members dead. There are already several bills in Congress designed to enhanced school safety, although it’s unclear what their prospects are on Capitol Hill…

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Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat

Public schools in the nation’s capital recently reported that the graduation rate for 2017 was the highest in the school system’s history.

According to school officials, about 73 percent of Washington public schools’ students graduated on time, another record high for a school system that had struggled years ago to graduate even half of its students.  The graduation rate marked a four-point rise from the previous year and a 20-point gain from 2011, when just over half of D.C. Public School students graduated within four years.

In response, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser proudly described the school system as the “fastest improving urban school district in the country.

“These graduation rates are a reminder that when we have high expectations for our young people and we back up those expectations with robust programs and resources, our students can and will achieve at high levels,” Bowser said in a statement.

But it was all false.  A report by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education shows more than one of every three diplomas awarded to students were not earned. The report found that 937 out of 2,758 graduates of D.C. public schools did not meet the minimum attendance requirements needed for graduation. Teachers even admit to falsely marking students present.

Washington is the latest of a series of public school systems found guilty of widespread cheating.  Similar cheating was found in public schools in Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago, Memphis, Los Angeles, Columbus, Ohio, and Atlanta.

The perpetrators in these scandals weren’t the students but the administrators and teachers.  Both have admitted to falsifying records on standardized tests, graduation requirements and student grades.

In response, some teachers have been fired and stripped of their licenses to teach again.  In other places like Atlanta, teachers and administrators have gone to jail. In Washington, D.C., Antwan Wilson, District of Columbia schools chancellor, resigned Feb. 20 after it was revealed he used his position to get his daughter into a preferred school.

The real culprit in these cheating scandals, according to education experts and teachers, is the increased — and some say unfair — pressure on education officials from the government to meet a certain level of student performance.  If they don’t meet the mandated standards, school systems could lose funding, and with less money to pay for staff and supplies some people could lose their jobs.

President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act in 2001, replaced by the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 and former President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top created an “accountability system,” education experts said, linking student performance to Title I funding, which are federal grants given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students.

No Child Left Behind was the first law requiring federally-mandated tests to measure student performance.  Prior to the law, states and cities used achievement tests to measure what students were learning to decide how effective their instruction was and what changes they might make.

Harvard professor Dan Koretz, author of the book The Teaching Charade: Pretending to Make Schools Better, said cheating by teachers — in many cases sanctioned or encouraged by administrators — is fueled by the misuse of standardized tests to measure school performance which has pressured teachers to raise scores beyond what is reasonable.

“Some cheat and, ironically, all of these shortcuts undermine the usefulness of tests for their intended purpose—monitoring what kids know,” Koretz said.

Koretz and other education experts believe standardized tests can be a useful measure of students’ knowledge, when used correctly.

survey by the Washington Teacher’s Union and EmpowerED echoes Koretz’s assertion that teachers feel pressure to cheat. The survey found that almost 60 percent of teachers said that they’ve felt pressure or coercion from superiors to pass undeserving students.

“There has been strenuous pressure to hit specific targets regardless of student performance or attendance,” an anonymous D.C. public school teacher said on the survey.

Another teacher said, “Administrators, parents, and teachers just want good grades so the school system and the student look accomplished on paper.”

A study conducted by the Urban Institute, a nonprofit research organization, showed that over 45 percent of Black students nationwide attend these low-income or high poverty public schools. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of White students attend these same schools.

Education expert Morgan Polikoff, a professor of education at the University of Southern California, said the result is that cheating is found primarily among majority-Black schools, which lack the educational tools and support they need in order to adequately serve their students.

“There are teachers who’ve felt pressure because they don’t feel that they have the capacity or support to achieve expectations through realistic measures,” Polikoff said.

Koretz said the cheating underscores the fallacy of rewarding and punishing schools based on standardized tests.

The answer “is to reduce the pressure to meet arbitrary targets,” he said. “Another is to routinely monitor how schools are reaching their targets. Yet another is to broaden the focus of accountability in schools to create a more reasonable mix of incentives.”

The post Why Public School Teachers, Administrators Cheat appeared first on Afro.

Advance Financial welcomes applications from graduating high school seniors for advancing education scholarships

Advance Financial welcomes applications from graduating high school seniors for advancing education scholarships

PRIDE PUBLISHING GROUP — Award-winning Nashville-based financial services company Advance Financial is accepting applications now through March 30 for its Advancing Education Scholarship program. Scholarships are available to seniors at accredited Tennessee schools who reside in a county served by Advance Financial.

The students must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and plan to attend a two- to four-year institution in the United States as an undergraduate.

The $1,000 awards are provided to cover part of the students’ college expenses for the fall semester of their freshman year. Over the past nine years, the company has awarded more than $133,600 in scholarships to graduating seniors in Tennessee through the Advance Financial Foundation.

“There are so many bright young students across the state who have promising futures ahead of them when given the right opportunities to pursue their potential,” said Shantrelle Johnson, VP of corporate citizenship for Advance Financial. “As a company we want to help them get off to a strong start in their academic endeavors. We welcome all students who are working towards higher education to apply for a scholarship, you can help us make this the biggest year yet for our Advancing Education program.”
Applications are judged on academic activities, honors, goals, community involvement and the ability to persevere in life.

To fund the scholarship program, Advance Financial collects donations in all of its stores across Tennessee and matches the donations dollar-for-dollar through the Advance Financial Foundation.

The Advancing Education program is part of Advance Financial’s deep-rooted commitment to education.

The company supports and funds a variety of educational initiatives, focusing on programs that improve the quality of education for preschool, grade school, and high school students, and make college more accessible to high school graduates.

Interested students can apply by visiting

Black History Month events at Metro Schools

Black History Month events at Metro Schools

PRIDE PUBLISHING GROUP — The Equity and Diversity Department, in collaboration with other MNPS departments and community partners, is hosting a series of events to celebrate Black History month, including two Lunch and Learn Sessions. These sessions are open to anyone who wants to increase their capacity to engage with students and families effectively and equitably.

Mon. Feb. 12 – Supporting Young Black Men, 11:30 am-noon. Facilitator: 100 Kings Staff. Location: MNPS Employee Wellness Center Large Conference Room A. This workshop explores how to support young Black men through relationship building and mentoring.

Wed., Feb. 21 — What’s Up with Black Girls?, 11:30 am-noon. Facilitator: Tasha Fletcher. Location: MNPS Employee Wellness Center Large Conference Room A. This workshop will cover the topic of Black girls as the fastest growing demographic to be suspended and expelled. Explore ways to promote the brilliance and leadership of Black girls.

Mon., Feb. 26 — Because of You Celebration, 10-11 am. Location: MNPS Board Room. Meet the ‘Nashville16’ students who bravely desegregated Metro Nashville Public Schools. School board members, local officials, principals and students will recognize these local heroes of desegregation.

Tues., Feb. 27 – Black History Community Celebration, 5-7 pm. Location: Martin Center. Celebrate the contributions of African Americans to the fabric of our nation, our communities, and our schools. Join us for an evening filled with dance, song, storytelling and history.

Moms Demand Action host remembrance service for Sandy Hook and Davidson county gun violence victims and survivors

Moms Demand Action host remembrance service for Sandy Hook and Davidson county gun violence victims and survivors

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook Elementary School and fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members. Prior to driving to the school, he shot and killed his mother at their Newtown home. As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

In commemoration of the tragedy, volunteers with the Middle Tennessee chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of Everytown for Gun Safety, gathered to honor the five-year mark of the Sandy Hook School shooting and the 94 Davidson County citizens who died in shootings in 2017.

Also in attendance were State Representatives Bill Beck, State Representative Harold Love, Ashford Hughes, Senior Advisor at the Mayor’s office, and a host of others.

Moms Demand Action volunteers Jennie Hunter and Linda McFadyen-Ketchum light candles as the names of Davidson County Citizens who died in shootings in 2017 are read.

Moms Demand Action volunteers Jennie Hunter and Linda McFadyen-Ketchum light candles as the names of Davidson County Citizens who died in shootings in 2017 are read.

Moms Demand Action was founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts on December 15, 2012, in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The organization quickly flourished into a leading force for gun violence prevention, with chapters in all 50 states and a powerful grassroots network of moms that has successfully effected change at the local, state and national level. In December 2013, Moms Demand Action partnered with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to unite a nationwide movement of millions of Americans working together to change the game and end the epidemic of gun violence that affects every community.

“There have been over 150,000 shooting deaths in this country in the last 5 yrs. Today on the anniversary of Sandy Hook, we gather together to remember the children and teachers 86 people in Davidson couty have died from homicide by gun this year, that number does not include accidents and suicide,” said Jeannie Hunter, a Moms Demand Action volunteer.

“We gather this weekend with others across the country and every state, and we call upon our local state and national leaders to promote policies and legislation that will reduce the impact of gun violence on all of our community; and urge support of extended background checks, essential legislation endorsed by an overwhelming majority of Americans.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Representative Harold love who said that, “we must do something about gun violence”, affirming his commitment along with that of Representative Bill Beck in doing what they can to help reduce gun violence in Tennessee.

The occasion was somber, with volunteers and those effected by gun violence sharing their stories, thankful for the organizations that is helping to bring positive change to senseless gun violence

“I’m very thankful for the ‘Moms’. I never understood how a mother could survive burying her child, and some days we didn’t think we were going to make it,” said one volunteer. I still don’t understand how a parent can live without their childe, because each day my husband and I struggle.”

Following the service, local artists lead attendees in creating Care Cards that were be mailed to gun violence survivors across the nation.

This event was one of more than 200 across the country commemorating the Sandy Hook five-year mark and asking lawmakers to do more to end gun violence.

Democrats Grill Trump Civil Rights, Special Education Nominees on Administration’s Record

Democrats Grill Trump Civil Rights, Special Education Nominees on Administration’s Record

Democrats on the Senate education committee had some tough questions Tuesday for President Donald Trump’s picks to head up civil rights and special education policy at the U.S. Department of Education.

Kenneth Marcus, who is currently the head of a Jewish civil rights organization and has been tapped to lead the department’s office for civil rights, and Johnny Collett, the program director for special education at the Council of Chief State School Officers, are likely to be confirmed. But Democrats used the confirmation hearing to air deep concerns about the Trump administration’s record on both civil rights and disabilities issues.

“One of the most appalling ways that President Trump has damaged our country is when it comes to civil rights, €”and undermining the rights and safety of women, people of color, and people with disabilities,” said Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the panel.

Murray said Marcus appears to “share the goal of halting discrimination on the basis of race ethnicity or religion” particularly on college campuses. But she worries about his ability to stand up to Trump and to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

And she expressed qualms about Collett’s record as head of special education in Kentucky. She noted that the state was criticized for allowing frequent use of seclusion and restraint in schools, which are used to a disproportionate degree on students with disabilities.

“Only after public outcry and work from the [state’s] protection and advocacy agency did Kentucky take steps to address this,” Murray said. “Additionally, €”you told my staff you support Secretary DeVos’ privatization agenda, which includes $20 billion school voucher proposal. Voucher programs do not support all of the needs of students with disabilities.”

But Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the committee, defended both nominees. He said Marcus “has a deep understanding of civil rights issues having founded the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights and having served as staff director of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for four years.” He said he had letters from 10 individuals and organizations supporting Marcus’ nomination. And he said that Collett is “widely supported by the special education community…”

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Source: Education Week Politics K-12