In 2005, the graduation rate in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) was just 62 percent. This unacceptably low level of performance led MNPS leaders to search the nation for school redesign models that would help re-engage students in their learning. They eventually decided on a career academy model, which would divide large high schools into smaller career-themed learning communities.
To fund the new model, MNPS applied for and received a federal Smaller Learning Communities grant. In 2007, the Academies of Nashville began operating in eight high schools. By 2010, the model had expanded to all 12 zoned high schools in MNPS.
The Academies of Nashville are structured similarly to a university. Within a university, there are different colleges, and within each college there are different majors. Likewise, each zoned high school in MNPS has multiple academies. Antioch High School, for example, has four academies: the Academy of Automotive Technology and Design, the Tennessee Credit Union Academy of Business and Finance, the Academy of Hospitality and Marketing, and the Academy of Teaching and Services.
Within each academy are multiple pathways, which are similar to college majors. For instance, students in the Academy of Health Management at Cane Ridge High School can choose a pathway in Emergency Services, Healthcare Administration, or Therapeutic Clinical Services. Students complete a minimum of three courses in their pathway while also completing the courses necessary for admission to a college or university. Each student in MNPS is zoned to a high school based on where they live, but students have the option of choosing a different high school if their zoned school does not offer an academy that matches their interests.
The Academies of Nashville experience begins with the Freshman Academy, which gives ninth-graders the opportunity to explore different career options before selecting a career academy. Students in the Freshman Academy attend a Career Exploration Fair and go on a college visit to help them envision a plan for their future. At the end of ninth grade, students decide which career academy they will join for their last three years of high school.
The career academies that 10th-12th graders attend are like schools-within-a-school. Each academy has its own theme, student body, principal, counselor, team of teachers, and network of business and community partners. So far, more than 350 businesses have partnered with the Academies of Nashville. The Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce coordinates meetings of industry-specific Partnership Councils that help to design the career pathways offered within each academy.
Academies of Nashville Director Dr. Chaney Mosley says the high degree of engagement with the local business community sets the Academies of Nashville apart from other school systems that have implemented similar models.
Through these business partnerships, the academies are able to offer work-based learning experiences at each grade level and for teachers:
• Sophomores participate in an industry-related field trip to see first-hand what work in a particular industry looks like.
• Juniors engage in a full-day job shadow of a professional in a career they are interested in.
• Seniors complete a capstone experience, such as an internship or service-learning project.
• Teachers complete multi-day externships with business partners over the summer so that they can create learning environments that mirror real world experiences.
Students also have the opportunity to earn college credit and industry credentials while attending the Academies of Nashville. During the 2014-15 school year, students in the Academies of Nashville earned more than 1,250 college credits through Career and Technical Education (CTE) dual-credit and dual-enrollment programs. Nearly 2,500 students took Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams, and 140 students earned industry certifications.
The Academies of Nashville have received national and international recognition for their achievements. President Obama has used the Academies of Nashville as an example of student success and effective partnerships between schools and businesses, and more than 2,000 people from across the U.S. and foreign countries have visited Nashville to witness these partnerships first-hand.
The success of the Academies of Nashville is borne out in district-level data. Since the academy model was implemented, graduation rates have increased, more students are scoring proficient or advanced on end-of-course exams, and ACT scores have improved. In 2015, the graduation rate in MNPS reached 81.6 percent.
Key community partners of the Academies of Nashville include the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the PENCIL Foundation, Alignment Nashville, and Ford Next Generation Learning.
(Thanks to Dr. Chaney Mosley and Whitney Weeks for their contributions to this blog post.)
This is the fourth in a series of SCORE Sheet blogs about school-business partnerships in Tennessee that focus on helping students develop skills for postsecondary education and the workforce.