Nashville’s Public Schools get big community boost

Nashvillians turned out by the hundreds to honor six new inductees to the Public Schools Hall of Fame and lend support to a new, citywide effort to kick-start private giving and rally the community around significant, needle-moving improvement of Nashville’s public schools.

As part of the 10th anniversary celebration, former Gov. Phil Bredesen and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist received the Nelson C. Andrews Distinguished Service Award for their extraordinary efforts to accelerate the present day education reform movement in Tennessee. In addition, four individuals received the Distinguished Alumni Award:
• James Bearden – CEO of Gresham, Smith and Partners (graduate of Maplewood High School)
• Dr. Jeffrey Eskind – physician with St. Thomas Medical Group and associate professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University (graduate of Hillwood High School)
• Sandra Lipman – community leader and volunteer (graduate of Overton High School)
• Brenda Wynn – Davidson County Clerk (becoming the first African American female elected to a constitutional office in Davidson County) and long-time community and neighborhood activist (graduate of Pearl High School)

Bredesen and Frist were jointly honored as part of a broader effort to highlight the importance of strong leadership that transcends traditional lines of political demarcation. Both were lauded not only for their individual efforts and initiatives, but also for their effort to bring the community together in a collaborative way.

As governor, Bredesen laid the groundwork for Tennessee to become the fastest-improving education state in America by leading the charge for college and career-ready standards. Raising expectations for all students with high standards spurred additional efforts, including an unprecedented focus on teacher effectiveness and professional development, and innovative strategies to improve persistently failing schools. Bredesen’s work culminated in Tennessee’s 2010 win in Race to the Top, which brought more than $500 million to the Volunteer State to help implement new ideas and accelerate improvement.

During this time, Frist emerged as a pivotal figure in helping hold everyone’s feet to the fire on bold reforms that put Tennessee on the national education map. In founding the State Collaborative on the Reform of Education (S.C.O.R.E.), Frist created what is now considered to be a national model for education-reform advocacy and thought leadership. As Tennessee continues down the difficult path of implementation, Frist and SCORE have been and continue to be critical voices in educating the public and policymakers on the need to stay the course with bold reforms.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joined in the tribute to Bredesen and Frist, calling them “men of tremendous honor. There is no question that the genesis of so much of the significant change, not easy change, but significant change, came from Gov. Bredesen and Sen. Frist.”

The annual Public Schools Hall of Fame is hosted by the Nashville Public Education Foundation. Since its creation 10 years ago, the NPEF has helped raise or manage nearly $25 million to support the city’s public schools. As part of Tuesday’s event, the Foundation announced plans to launch a large-scale, city-wide effort to raise substantial funds to support targeted, innovative efforts to “move the needle” on public school excellence.

“The Nashville Public Education Foundation is ready to do its part,” said NPEF President Shannon Hunt. “We’re going to focus like a laser beam on those efforts that build off the successes to date, but help us go deeper, faster, further in the quest for true public school excellence. Together, in partnership with our school system and the community, we’re going to prove something extraordinary is possible in Nashville.”

Secretary Duncan added his muscle to the cause effort saying: “Great, great work so far Nashville. With this entire community working together, this city can go on to a different level and do something very, very special.”

Singer/songwriter Ben Folds was also on hand at the event and reminded people “if there were ever a city on Earth that could prove it was possible to harmonize its voices behind public school excellence, it is Nashville.”

This year’s event raised more than $260,000 to support public education in Nashville. In both dollars raised and turnout, it broke an all-time record for the event.