In the first Metro Nashville Public Schools board meeting since the end of the school year, the board discussed school safety, state test scores, the superintendent's contract renewal and custodial contracts. Because it was the first meeting of the month, public comment was open.
Awards and Recognition
Tuesday's meeting started strong with a lengthy awards and recognition period that honored myriad student athletes and their many tennis, track and field awards. Alongside the students, the board recognized employees from Inglewood Elementary School, who contained an erratic school intruder on May 11.
“This is not what anyone expects to happen in school, and it shouldn't happen," said Director of Schools Adrienne Battle. "But when it does, you need educators with cool heads … who run towards the danger and … know what they have to do to keep their students safe. These Inglewood Elementary School educators passed every test that they put in front of them. … We thank you for your courage.”
Additionally, Battle recognized MNPS’ executive officer of operations Ken Stark, who received the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. This award is “the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.”
In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, the news of which broke during the last school board meeting, Battle addressed ongoing efforts to enhance school security and safety for the summer’s Promising Scholars program and forthcoming school year.
“School safety and security is not the role of one person, not the role of one position or one department,” said Battle. “It is a collaboration between various different stakeholders, departments and agencies to work together to prevent incidents from happening and respond when they do.”
Battle noted that the district has and will continue to prioritize installing security vestibules in schools that don’t have them, phones at school entrances, badge access on exterior doors, inside door locks, systems that provide instant background checks, cameras and other safety measures. She also addressed student mental health supports and noted that next year’s student-parent handbook will address gun safety and storage. She said that gun violence in schools “is an issue that we need to address as not only a city [and] a state, but as a country.”
The security discussion raised controversial safety provisions as well, such as metal detectors and school resource officers. The Metro Nashville Police Department spearheads the SRO program, which assigns armed officers to middle and high schools throughout the district. Battle pushed back when District 6 representative Fran Bush asked why there aren’t SROs in elementary schools.
Battle discussed the need to maintain welcoming learning environments and noted that “we cannot ignore some of the research and data that's out there about the presence of armed officers in our schools.” Though she didn't cite specific studies, research shows that increased police presence in schools doesn’t necessarily protect students from active shooters. District 2 representative Rachael Anne Elrod addressed the drawbacks of SROs in schools by asking if they receive training regarding students with disabilities, noting that those students are arrested at higher rates. Battle said yes.
Bush also asked about thermal scanners, which were purchased from Meharry Medical College at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While these scanners are used to check students' temperatures, they can also be upgraded to detect guns. Though Battle said “nothing’s off the table,” she did not express a commitment to upgrading and using the scanners for security purposes. She also pushed back against using metal detectors.
Rounding out the director’s report, Battle addressed newly released Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program test results. District breakdowns of this data will be available July 6.
The public comment portion of Tuesday's meeting saw parents and community members address sustainability and food waste in schools, bullying, MNPS’ decision to remove charter schools from middle school sports leagues, access to advanced courses, school safety and poor communication from the district.
The conversations that dominated the governance portion of the meeting addressed renewing Battle’s contract as director of schools as well as custodial contracts.
Some board members expressed concern that they didn’t conduct another evaluation of Battle before renewing her contract, though they voiced their support of her as the director of schools. Bush confronted the board about the decision and refused to vote on the matter. Ultimately, every member aside from Bush voted to renew Battle’s contract through 2026; her $285,000 base salary will not change, apart from cost-of-living adjustments. District 9 representative Abigail Tylor raised concerns about custodians, who are contracted through outside vendors. She noted that some schools aren’t being properly cleaned, and asked the district what it would look like to employ its own custodians again. A district representative noted that it would cost approximately $50 million on top of what the district is currently spending. While several board members expressed a desire to hire their own custodians in the future, they approved the contracts.
A new student board member will replace Angelie Quimbo, who graduated this year. Alayna Mitchell, a rising junior at Hillsboro High School, will take Quimbo's place alongside Abenezer Haile as a student board member in September.