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Nashville Shows What Can Be Accomplished Through Alignment

This week I traveled to Nashville with community leaders, educators, administrators, and Alignment Rockford staff for the Alignment Institute conference. The primary purpose of the conference was to get additional training in Alignment processes and practices so that we can do a better job coordinating resources. The secondary purpose was to get a look at the high school Academies of Nashville.

Wednesday, September 14.

Besides being known as music city, the country music capital of the United States, the health care capital of the country, and Transportation City (three highways converge here), Nashville is also the home of Alignment Nashville, after which Alignment Rockford is modeled.

Nashville is very similar to Rockford demographically. One thing that is not similar, however, is that Nashville has made significant progress toward economic recovery. Forbes Magazine voted Nashville the 3rd most likely boom economy (most likely to grow and prosper over the next ten years) in the nation. Why? Ralph Schulz, CEO of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, attributes this to the priority that has been given to education. Schulz stated that businesses want to know that their investment of time and money into a community will generate value, and Alignment Nashville is the mechanism that makes that happen. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean also made it very clear that education is his number one priority.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Alignment model supports the school district’s existing strategic plan. Prior to Alignment, we existed in parallel universes, sometimes trying to accomplish the same things in different ways, sometimes trying to accomplish different things in the same ways. Alignment Nashville and Alignment Rockford exist to connect these dots to help meet the needs that have been identified by the school district. They both ask, how can we as a community work with the school district to ensure its goals are accomplished?

Alignment Nashville started out with four committees (just like Alignment Rockford) and is now up to 22 committees. They manage hundreds of community partnerships with the school district. They’ve worked with the school district, businesses, and not-for-profits to implement many successful programs. As a result, they’ve seen their graduation rate increase from 68.8% in 2006 to 82.9% in 2010. Elementary schools have seen significant reductions in bullying, discipline referrals, and tardiness. A new committee whose goal is to help 16-24 year old high school drop outs get a degree is in progress; community organizations who provide GED services stated that they have seen significant increases in enrollment.

The model works and Nashville has proven that.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Friday was both inspiring and emotional as we visited two Metro Nashville high schools. We started at Maplewood High School which was located in one of the highest crime rate/poorest areas of the city. Here students from a program called Developing Community Leaders (DCL) talked about their experiences. DCL teaches students 21st century skills and requires students to lead social action programs that they create. A few examples of this include: Soles4Souls which collects shoes for those in need; a gardening club that grows and sells healthy food to students to encourage healthy eating (especially since the local grocery store closed down); and the SAFE Initiative (Supportive Atmosphere for Everyone), a student led conflict management program that encourages resolving issues without physical contact.

Another program called The Village was developed (in conjunction with Alignment Nashville) by a student participating in Developing Community Leaders. She was a pregnant teen who was looking for resources she needed as a new mother. “I’m still a kid. I’m a kid with a kid. The stuff you thinks comes natural as a parent does not [come natural] to us,” she stated.  The program has turned into a 30 minute advisory elective that young expectant or new parents take during the school day. They learn everything from how to buckle their babies into a car seat, to what to feed their babies, to how to manage the stress of being a parent. As one of the highest areas for teen pregnancy in the country, this program has been successful in that it has contributed to the increase in graduation rates.

Finally, we witnessed the high school academies model in action. The academies model is project based learning. Freshman year students enroll in a standard curriculum, as well as freshman seminar. During freshman seminar they examine the different career academies available to them, and choose to enroll in one of them for their sophomore year. Once a student chooses a career academy, they take classes that align with the theme of the academy. Core classes are integrated within the theme of these classes. Glencliff High School, which we visited in the afternoon, includes the Ford Academy of Business, The Academy of Environmental & Urban Planning, The Academy of Hospitality & Marketing, and The Academy of Medical Science & Research. Each academy partners with businesses or not-for profits who work with the students of the academy. Students of the Hospitality & Marketing Academy run a restaurant in the school that is open to the public. They use food grown in a garden located on school grounds, they cook the food in a commercial kitchen within the school, they write a business plan for the restaurant, they manage the finances of the restaurant, they market the restaurant, and they blog about their experiences running a restaurant. McGavock High School students have partnered with a local bank to open a credit union in their school, as part of the Academy for Hospitality and Finance. The credit union is entirely run and operated by the students. These are  just two of many examples of how students are learning the basics through a learning model that allows them to work hands on and figure out if what career they might want to pursue after they graduate.

The Alignment model works. Nashville has proven that. Alignment Rockford is one year in, and we have a ways to go, but it takes time to see the results of change. Patience is not one of our strongest virtues here in Rockford. Alignment Nashville did not start their first pilot program until the 2005-2006 school year. But now, they have self-sustaining programs in their school district that have made measurable differences for the better. A strong school district impacts the entire community.

We can get there too.

L to R: Dr. Ehren Jarrett, RPS 205; Dr. Lori Fanello, ROE; Devon LaRosa, AP, Jefferson HS;  Jan Jones, ROE; Don Rundall, Jefferson HS Principal; Rudy Valdez, Hamilton Sundstrand; Laurie Preece, Alignment Rockford; Bridget French, William Charles; Mayor Larry Morrissey, City of Rockford; and Diane Peters, Alignment Rockford, were some of the Alignment Insititute attendees who visited McGavock High School in Nashville.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for mentioning Soles4Souls!