One could have been impressed with many aspects of President Barack Obama’s visit to Nashville last week. The security that is ever-present for a presidential visit, the students from McGavock High School who greeted him and hosted the event, the obvious pride of our community as he visited our city for the first time since his election six years ago and the energy that the president himself displayed during his brief appearance in Middle Tennessee. The aspect that most impressed me was not the event but the reason the president came: Tennessee's improvement in public education.
When the president entered the gym at McGavock and bounded to the podium there was electricity in the air. He followed with an enthusiastic speech on the importance of educating our nation’s children. Most significant were his compliments about what is happening in the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). He was knowledgeable and gracious with his frequent references to both programs and people who make education happen in our public schools.
His compliments were well deserved. In spite of the sometimes-contentious dialogue between entities trying to improve our schools, the schools are improving and doing so in measurable ways. Tennessee’s students have made the most progress in the state’s history with improved proficiency levels on 23 out of 24 state assessments. In Nashville, the high school graduation rate has improved by almost 20 percent while drop-out rates have declined.
That improvement cannot be attributed to a single individual or entity. It is a joint effort under the leadership of Director of Schools Jesse Register, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, organizations like the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, PENCIL Foundation and the Nashville Public Education Foundation. And it is the result of the thousands of individuals and businesses that contribute financially, and otherwise, to the schools so that a leading edge of success can be achieved.
When I moved to Nashville in 2005, it was immediately obvious that the community had made public education a priority. Even though Lipscomb University operates the largest private preK-12 school in Middle Tennessee, we joined those leaders and organizations to contribute our resources and expertise to improving public education. More than 54,000 students each day are taught by graduates of Lipscomb’s College of Education, recently named one of the top four teacher preparation programs in the nation. Through a MNPS English Learners partnership, the college has helped more than 350 teachers earn EL endorsements. Each summer, cohorts of teachers come to the university to learn the latest in teaching mathematics and to participate in tech conferences and coaching conversations.
Now, eight years later, the collaboration of many entities has elevated Nashville's education progress to something worthy of a presidential visit. That should allow for a moment of pride and then a re-commitment to the cause of educating our young people. There is nothing in our community more worthy of our combined efforts. There is nothing in our community that will benefit more from our enduring commitment. It is education that promises better, more productive lives and responsible citizens.
Thank you, Mr. President, for your visit to Nashville and for noticing the comprehensive efforts to carry out the agenda of outstanding education. Thank you for affirming those who work diligently to accomplish an educational mission that is larger than themselves. Thank you for encouraging us as we seek to develop young people for service to our city and our country.