Murfreesboro City School District’s (MCS) mission is to help all of their students have both academic and personal success. The center of their work is on the whole child, and all children no matter their background.
“[We have to ask] what does educational equity look like when you have large schools and small schools, diverse ethnicities and income levels, and you are continuing to grow as a system,” asked Dr. Trey Duke, Director of Murfreesboro City Schools, at a recent presentation to the Rotary Club of Murfreesboro.
Being aware of all of these issues, understanding their effect on learning and making sure everyone has the resources to address them is what Dr. Duke calls the “Circle of Support” he and his colleagues place around every child.
Each school looks at the needs of the kids entering their building, as well as how the size of the school itself impacts each child. There are 13 schools in the system and more than 9,000 students. Small schools, which are housed in the oldest school buildings — like Discovery School at Bellwood, Reeves Rogers Elementary, and Bradley Academy — have less than 400 students each. However, the newest schools – Overall Creek and Salem Elementary – serve more than 800 students each. Smaller schools often have more of a community feel than larger ones, so it is important to make all children feel accepted in the larger schools just like the ones at the smaller schools do.
Background, home language, ethnicity, and economics all play a role in how children learn. As does each individual child’s learning style. Teachers today must be proficient at finding ways to help all of their students learn and grow.
Currently, there are 28 different home languages spoken in the MCS system. It is also an ethnically diverse system, with 48% White, 26% African American, 15% Hispanic, 8% Multi-Racial, and 4% Asian.
In the United States, more than 50% of children in the public school system are eligible for free or reduced lunch. MCS averages 39%, with some schools having a rate as low as 6%, while the highest rate in the district is 60%. Research shows that children do not learn well on an empty stomach, which is why MCS served more than 875,000 breakfasts during the 2020 school year.
Dr. Duke and his leadership team are working to make sure they have culturally competent and highly effective educators.
“We have to take ownership of what we do,” said Dr. Duke, “We owe it to our community that the next generation is prepared for what we don’t even know yet.”
One of the things the system is doing to make sure that the next generation is prepared for the future, both in everyday life and the work world, is to focus on achievement in language arts and mathematics.
“If our kids can’t read proficiently,” added Dr. Duke, “it doesn’t matter what they can do.”
Of equal import in the work world is an understanding of math and economics, and MCS has for a number of years been finding ways to build a love of mathematics in their students. Of the nine schools in the system, four are STEM Designated Schools by the State of Tennessee. This means that science, technology, engineering and mathematics are integrated into teaching and learning practices for all students. Overall Creek was the first school in the system given this designation, followed by Discovery School, Bradley Academy and Erma Siegel. Duke hopes to have other schools in the system gain the designation.
Being very much about hands-on learning, MCS loves working with community partners. One concern of the business community is children’s lack of financial literacy. While state-wide it is part of high school curriculum standards, MCS is part of Junior Achievement’s (JA) BizTown program for 5th and 6th graders. As their website explains, “JA BizTown combines in-class learning with a day-long visit to a simulated town. This popular program allows elementary school students to operate banks, manage restaurants, write checks, and vote for mayor. The program helps students connect the dots between what they learn in school and the real world.”
Some individual schools have partnerships with banks that teach the kids in that school the bank’s financial literacy program.
“We love to have our business partners build real world connectivity for our students,” stated Dr. Duke.
Their program is pay off, as all schools in the system have been designated as “Schools of Distinction” by the state, and they have been awarded the Miliken National Education Award for their strong background in early childhood development. It is the Oscar of Education.
“A good strong education system benefits everyone,” said Dr. Duke.