In two weeks, 100 teachers from throughout Middle Tennessee will come together to identify and discuss major issues affecting the high school graduation rates in their schools. As part of the national American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative, Nashville Public Television, in partnership with SCORE and Alignment Nashville, is convening a teacher town tall that is designed to focus entirely on the views of local teachers on issues that concern them about education in their communities. Even more importantly, these teachers will be highlighting recommendations for their communities and the state to improve education and, ultimately, graduation rates for all students.

The town hall, which will be taped at NPT’s studios on February 12, will be moderated by PBS NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan. The discussion will not be guided by a “panel of experts,” rather it will be completely driven by the 100 teachers in attendance. By structuring the conversation in this way, NPT aims to enable teachers to connect with a network of their colleagues in other communities so that they can share success stories and come away with concrete ideas to improve their own teaching and community engagement. NPT will be broadcasting the discussion two weeks later on television and their website. If you are a teacher that is interested in attending the town hall, please click here to register.

Students drop out of high school for a multitude of reasons. They may not feel connected to their school environment or challenged by their classes. Many students do not see the connection between what they are required to learn and their future career dreams and aspirations. For many students, life challenges, such as having to leave school to get a job to support their family, or becoming pregnant and not having the supports to continue school, prompt them to drop out before earning a high school diploma. Despite these reasons, research also tells us that the majority of students who have dropped out believe they could have graduated if provided with the right supports.

Over the last few years, Tennessee has seen big improvements in its high school graduation rate, posting gains that outpace every other state in the nation. I’ve written before about all of the work our state is engaged in to not only improve graduation rates, but ensure that our graduates are better equipped for the demands of college and the workforce. Although Tennessee’s graduation rate of 85.5 percent outpaces the national average, many districts in the state fall below this average. Additionally, overall averages often mask important gaps between subgroups, such as minority students and those with limited English proficiency, that remind us of how important it is to remain committed to this work.

As we engage in these conversations as a state, we must remember that graduation rates are not ends in themselves. Instead, they are a barometer that indicates how well school leaders are setting a culture of high expectations; how well teachers are supported in improving their professional practice; how engaged business and community leaders are in providing needed extracurricular supports to students who need them; and how relevant what we are teaching students is to their futures. Teachers are not just the number one school-based factor when it comes to improving student achievement. They are professionals who lie at the intersection of all of the state’s policy goals to improve our schools. Thus, listening to their insights on what’s working and what’s not as we move forward as a state is critical. I’m excited to hear what they have to say.