Rocketship Nashville #2 Prepares for Launch

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by Shaka Mitchell
Regional Director, Tennessee

The next time you’re in Nashville, I want to take you to visit 320 Plus Park Boulevard. That’s where we recently started the full-scale renovation of a building that will house the second Rocketship elementary school in Nashville next fall. (For those keeping tally – that’s two schools opening in the past two years, set to serve nearly 1,000 Rocketeers in total). I expect that in the coming months I’ll write more about the surrounding neighborhood as our team deepens roots in the community, but as it’s only January, I wanted to write a little about what it means to be the first expanding Rocketship region outside of the Bay Area.

First, let me acknowledge right up front that I’m not wearing rose-colored glasses. There are some definite challenges that await us: Can we recruit enough students to operate at full capacity? Can we attract enough high-quality talent, especially given the competitiveness of Nashville’s teaching market? Finally, can we deliver academic results at our first school while preparing to double the region’s size? These are all fair questions so let me tell you how I find some solace amidst the uncertainty.

Shaka reads to a group of Nashville Northeast students in the learning lab.

Shaka reads to a group of Nashville Northeast students in the learning lab.

Here in Tennessee, we have the luxury of looking to our Rocketship colleagues in other cities and schools to learn from their successes and struggles. Knowing this gives me great hope and confidence. There’s a tremendous benefit to seeing how systems and strategies in the Bay Area or Milwaukee affect a school’s ability to provide a transformative education for kids most in need. This is true for classroom teachers, network support team members and even relationships with community partners and outside vendors.

Let me give you an example. The Learning Lab at Nashville Northeast Elementary is a massive space. There are an infinite number ways you could arrange the tables at which students use Chromebooks for personalized learning sessions and believe me – we’ve tried more than a few. But rather than mix up the layout of the room every week for an entire year, the team at RNNE was able to learn from innovations in other schools to dial in the right combination that best serves student learning.

The above example implies at least two lessons, items that, if we’re doing them well, will lead to even greater results at all of our schools. First, across the Rocketship network we should all appreciate that no man is an island. That is, every individual’s results can have an impact beyond his or her immediate sphere of influence. I don’t know who stumbled upon the right Learning Lab design, but I’m glad they did; students 2,000 miles away are benefitting from that solution. The second lesson is related. It’s important to communicate both “glows and grows,” as our coaches often say. Without consistent communication, we would lack the strength of a network. Indeed, we would only be a loosely affiliated group of nearly a dozen independent schools.

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So what does this have to do with expanding our network in Nashville? With regards to educational transformation in Nashville, there is still much to accomplish and our ability to meet these needs by opening more high-quality schools is directly linked to our network’s strength. And we are the network – every teacher, back office employee, parent and student. And my hope is, over time (and even now), we in Nashville are showing other Rocketeers throughout the network how to grow a region.

This comes with a pledge: if you want to know whether a given project has been successful, just reach out and ask. We’re approaching our growth boldly – next year I expect to again double in size in Nashville – but we have the requisite humility to know that our Tennessee schools are part of the larger Rocketship movement.

As educators, we are committed to learning. So learn from us and don’t hesitate to share your best practices. Our kids will thank you.

Share your best practices or reach out to learn more about Rocketship’s ➟ @RocketshipEd


Shaka is Rocketship’s Regional Director for Tennessee. Growing up, he split his time between the North and South and eventually landed in Nashville where he attended Belmont University. He then earned his law degree at Wake Forest University in North Carolina. Shaka spent the next years advancing education reform around the country while based in Washington, D.C. When not growing schools in Tennessee, he is busy raising two daughters with his wife Stephanie. 

Follow Shaka on Twitter: @shakamitchell

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